Supervisors Clash on ‘Premium’ Long-Haul Buses: Board tables proposal to reverse the course to self-sufficiency

Supervisors Clash on ‘Premium’ Long-Haul Buses: Board tables proposal to reverse the course to self-sufficiency

With a proposal to approve an update to the county’s Transit Development Plan (TDP) before him, Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) took the opportunity to make the case for subsidizing direct-to-DC and direct-to-Arlington long-haul bus services rather than pushing them into self-sufficiency.

Other supervisors criticized Meyer’s proposal, saying long-haul service will compete with the county’s funding strategy for Metro, and therefore should not be subsidized by the taxpayers.

The TDP helps provide guidance to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation as it updates the state’s Statewide Transit Six-Year Plan each year.

The long-haul service gives passengers a ride on 45-foot coach buses to Washington, D.C. and Arlington without making other stops along the way. The $8 fee currently covers about 80 percent of the $10 cost per passenger. It’s the most popular commuter bus service offered by the county. Meanwhile, subsidies run about 70 percent for bus service to Metro.

But Meyer questioned plans to continue increasing the fees until they cover the cost of the service. While he agreed that the county should encourage the use of Metro service when it opens, he said supervisors should keep the long-haul service affordable. When he made motion to approve the TDP, he added direction to staff to provide scenarios to lower subsidies to Metro direct services and redirecting that money to long-haul service.

“I think it’s really outrageous to people who are happy with the long-haul system to take that away from them to try to help Metro,” he said.

Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said he appreciated Meyer’s intend, “but he doesn’t know the history.”

Buona said that subsidizing long-haul service once Metro opens could negatively impact the county’s plans to pay for Metro. The county’s funding plan includes a special tax district near the planned rail stations as well as revenue-generating parking decks at those stations.

“Long haul is going to compete directly with Metro. It’s going to compete directly with our tax district. It’s going to compete with the county-owned parking garages where we need revenue,” Buona said. “There’s no reason to subsidize it when Metro opens because there are alternatives for those commuters.”

Dulles Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R) said it makes more sense to wait for the staff to provide analysis rather than provide direction at this point in the process. In addition, he considers the long-haul service a luxury.

“We can provide a service, which is essentially an express non-stop door-to-door service for many people,” Letourneau said, but added, “It’s going to cost a premium because that is a premium type service.”

Further, he pointed out that Washington, D.C., cannot handle an eternally growing number of buses coming into the city.

“Our ability to add buses is reaching an end,” he said. “We have to start shifting people to Metro because it’s going to be our only option.”

Chair Phyllis Randall, however, agreed with Meyer.

“I don’t think it’s our job to try to make people get on Metro,” she said. “We need everything that can move moving, even when Metro gets here because that’s how much our county has grown in population.”

Before the board could vote on giving staff direction on long-haul service, Supervisor Kristen Umstattd made an undebatable motion to table the item, which won 6-3. The board voted unanimously to send the TDP forward without the long-haul direction.