Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed
Along with my trek walking from National Airport to Capitol Hill last Sunday because the subway had closed and the three lines for cabs were very long and the number of cabs paltry and I hate waiting, the very great GGW entry by Matt Johnson, "A Metrobus Sunday map: Where the service isn't," reminded me that from time to time I have written about night-time transit issues and the need to expand service.
1. The GGW entry calls our attention to how the transit service in Houston (Harris County) publishes special maps for weekend service, separate maps for Saturday and Sunday, which compared to service during the week, is significantly reduced. Matt put in the effort to create a similar map for the WMATA system. And yes, transit service on Sunday is significantly reduced compared to the other days.
2. And the issue has to do with whether or not your community wants to support a livable-walkable lifestyle that doesn't require automobile-dependence.
And as far as late night transit service goes, if you want a 24-hour city--really an 18-hour city maybe, but that 18 hours timeshifts for various segments of the population, one person's 18 hour city might start at 6 am and end at midnite, while another's 18 hour city ends at 4 am. The various customer segments should be served as much as possible, which means providing close to 24-hour service within the transit shed.
3. This relates to the point I make about how planning for transit service, especially in terms of network breadth and depth, should be done by the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the local jurisdictions, rather than the transit operator because the transit operator will always satisfice service because of budget. See "Metropolitan mass transit planning: more thoughts."
Instead if the MPO/jurisdictions mandate a particular service structure, that puts them on the hook for providing the money (not unlike how DC passed a law requiring Sunday service on the part of the library system--see the past blog entry, "Another example of setting global service standards for local government services (libraries)") to the transit service to get the level of service that they call for in master plans.
4. In response to some good articles in the Post last summer about burgeoning demand on the S bus line (16th Street NW), WMATA and DC responded by providing more service ("Washington Post article on the demand for night-time bus services"). On that line, the issue wasn't the hours of the service footprint, but needing to add more bus capacity.
5. Besides adding service to more lines on an as needed basis, I suggest from time to time that WMATA provide a Nite Owl Bus Service along the various subway lines, during the time when the subway is closed (other than for maintenance) so that people can still get to and from stations and around the metropolitan area. See the past blog entry "Overnight transit service." In the US, only New York City provides 24-hour subway service.
Note that in DC on the main buslines (30s--Wisconsin and Pennsylvania Avenues; S--16th Street; 70s--7th Street and Georgia Avenue; 90s--Florida Avenue, 8th Street, Southeast DC; X--H Street and Benning Road) service is provided 22.5 to 23.5 hours per day. And in the suburbs, some Metrobus lines provide almost as much service. But in many areas transit service ends when subway service ends.
Night owl bus service that complements subway lines when they are closed is provided in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as well as in the part of the San Francisco Bay served by BART, in the hours between 1 am and 5 am when BART doesn't run. There, it's called All-Nighter Service.
One of the hindrances to Nite Owl service in some jurisdictions are provisions in labor contracts that call for double-time wages during overnight hours. (I don't know if that provision is in the contracts here, I doubt it.) See "Survey on MBTA late-night service draws thousands of responses," "Closing time: the chaos of last call," and "Opinion: 7/16/2010: Reviving the night owl" from the Boston Globe.
6. At the very least, bus service between the airports should be provided during the hours that airplanes arrive and depart, when that period extends beyond the hours of the subway. During the week, the B30 to BWI runs 16 hours, the 5A to Dulles runs 18 hours per day. These buses run a bit fewer hours on the weekends (the B30 is tied to the subway service schedule as it departs from Greenbelt station).
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It will be a few years before the Silver Line is extended to Dulles Airport, and I imagine an additional bus route from the last station of the line--Wiehle/Reston East station--will be added to provide service to Dulles Airport as well.
Currently, there is no Metrobus service for National Airport with one exception (see the next paragraph). But there should be the equivalent of the Nite Owl for it, especially in the period before Nite Owl service along the subway lines would be instituted.
Note that to serve employees before the subway starts running on Saturday and Sunday, WMATA provides 2-3 bus runs per day (13F/13G) per direction from and to National Airport from certain locations in DC, serving the Pentagon and Crystal City as well, between the hours of 6 am and 7 am.
Nite Owl Service inset map, from the 1946 Capital Transit map.