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Monday, June 23, 2008

To DDOT: Please Don't Spoil Guerrilla Bus Lines

Dear DDOT,

Please reconsider moving all commercial bus pick-ups and drop-offs to a single central location. While a central bus depot may be the most efficient and convenient aggregate solution, we should consider a range of options before making such a decision. Allowing these buses to pick-up and drop-off at various locations has many potential benefits:

  • Increased convenience for residents,
  • Increased neighborhood foot traffic,
  • Increased safety (due to increased foot traffic), and
  • Increased customers for local businesses.

Furthermore, a central bus depot could create problems. Is it possible that having these buses operating at various locations spreads out their impacts in such a way that allows the local environments to absorb or mitigate some of these impacts? Conversely, if we bring all of these buses together at one location, will their close proximity multiply their impacts? Who knows about these things?

Here is an intuitive example (rather than a scientific one): If I owned a small business in the city, say a cafe or deli, I might like to be near the pick-up/drop-off location for a small bus company. The increased traffic would provide a steady supply of customers. However, I might NOT want to be near the pick-up/drop-off location for ALL the bus companies--I would be nervous about air quality, noise, and the possibility of too much traffic.

Also, I don't know that the best solution is to tell these buses where they have to go. Instead, we could tell them what they're not allowed to do, hold them accountable, and let them solve the problem. The guerrilla bus companies provide valuable services, and the lack of regulation has allowed small locally owned bus companies to thrive. I'm not anti-regulation, but small and local businesses are good things.

Certainly the City should regulate companies that use public space for commercial gain, and certainly the City has a duty to ensure that these buses are not blocking municipal transit or creating unhealthy conditions or nuisances for residents or visitors. Doesn't curbside pick-up/drop-off require a permit and have a fee structure? If not, why not? If so, why isn't the system working? If these buses are creating significant problems, they're probably breaking the law already. How many have been ticketed? The folks who started these bus lines appear to be savvy entrepreneurs, if they were being cited appropriately for violations, you can bet they'd find a solution ASAP.

Obviously, I know very little about this issue, but I like buses, and I like people. I don't like the idea of shoving the buses into a corner that then becomes "the dirty smelly bus depot," nor to I like the idea of allowing buses to sit idling for hours right outside someones bedroom window or sidewalk cafe. We should be able to solve this problem.

Read more about this issue on your favorite DC blogs:

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