Many bus providers, one regional system


How can the region’s bus system work better? Can service be more efficient, and can money be saved through coordination and cooperation among the many service providers? In June 2018, the TPB’s Regional Bus Service Provision study sought to answer that question.

The Washington region is served by twelve different transit agencies. Each of these agencies covers its own geography, has its own cost drivers, funding structure, and operational practices.

The 12 transit agencies that comprise the Washington Metropolitan Area’s transportation system. (TPB)

The study set out to better understand how and why agencies’ costs, funding structures, and operational practices vary; and find ways for agencies to further enhance their service efficiency and cost savings through improved coordination, collaboration, and partnering between agencies.

 Transit agencies in the region have already begun to coordinate and share

Bus rider oriented and agency-oriented strategies for enhancing efficiency go a long way in saving the region’s transit agencies time and money. These strategies also improve their overall quality of service. Joint procurement, staff training, facilities, shared infrastructure, technology, and routes are some of the ways the region is already coordinating among agencies.

Transit providers in the region regularly coordinate schedules for a wide variety of reasons including facilitating transfers between agencies and modes. The region’s transit providers frequently merge routes identified to be duplicating service. Metroway in Arlington/Alexandria is the first of what could be many shared facilities in the region. Transit hubs and centers, like the Pentagon Transit Center, provide passengers with comfortable spaces to make transfers, access information services, and utilize other passenger amenities. Bus providers in the region have established a 2-hour transfer credit, which encourages trips that cross jurisdictions. The SmartTrip card, which was released in 1999 as a fair payment system for MetroRail, has been adopted by all local bus agencies. Multiple agencies work together to share information through Commuter Stores and WMATA’s Trip Planner. Through the TIGER Transit Service Priority Project, buses run the same routes across jurisdictions using the same technology. Arlington Transit (ART) uses a Fairfax County tire contract and COG has a cooperative fuel purchasing contract. WMATA and Maryland MVA license CDL drivers in Maryland through a training program.  WMATA has a 75-year lease with Fairfax County for co-occupying the West Ox bus facility, which includes operating and renewal cost sharing.

The study, conducted with the participation of the region’s transit service providers, found that while there is coordination and collaboration on service and operations aspects among the many transit systems, there are opportunities to achieve enhanced efficiency and cost savings through increased coordination and collaboration. From coordinating schedules, fare structures, and media, to sharing passenger facilities and data, the region’s transit agencies have a strong foundation to build from when it comes to better serving its customers

Here are eight key recommendations from the study:

Transfers or Mergers of Service: Currently, it isn’t easy to transfer from one bus provider to another. Yet, sometimes a rider needs to transfer to get to their destination. If transit providers coordinated transfers to be low or no-cost between transit providers and merged service operations, it would be easier for the rider to use multiple systems.

Shared Facilities: When agencies coordinate and partner with each other, they can share maintenance, storage, and parking facilities. This has money saving potential and eliminates duplicative efforts.

Shared Infrastructure: Sharing infrastructure along high-investment corridors can streamline services and cut down on costs.

Joint Procurement: By working together to buy buses and make other joint-purchases, agencies and jurisdictions in the region can get more for their dollars.

Shared Customer Service Functions: Communication is essential for customer service. Not only do transit agencies need to promote the service, but they also need to let riders know about disruptions or service changes. By better coordinating the promotion of transit information resources and establishing consistent service disruptions communications channels across the region, agencies can provide a single source for information sharing. Additionally, developing a joint regional call and communication center will better serve customers. Finally, sharing these functions can allow for shared customer service studies to better serve the public.

Shared Administrative Functions: Agencies can also join forces in a range of administrative responsibilities, from disposing of assets such as buses and other infrastructure, to merging bus service provider governance, staff, and operations, as well as sharing information regarding best practices in agency administration.

Joint Training: The agencies in the region could conduct joint trainings, including: Commercial Driver License (CDL), clever device, maintenance, safety and security. Agencies could also benefit from a regional technical training program to help streamline training across the region.

Shared Technology: There could be a standard process to collect and disseminate data and technology. The region can also develop and expand transit signal priority systems which give buses priority at traffic lights.


TPB managed the RBSP, which was jointly funded by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). FoursquareITP, with assistance from AECOM, prepared the study under the oversight and guidance of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), composed of the transit agencies.

About the study

In the first phase of this two-phase study, the consultants, in collaboration with the TAC, conducted a cost accounting of bus service in the region, which inventoried the cost components of regional bus service: vehicle operations, vehicle maintenance, general administration, and non-vehicle maintenance. The team then analyzed regional bus service provision cost factors, including operating characteristics, contractual provisions, and governance structures. Phase two identified regional options for efficiency by analyzing potential strategies for regional bus service provision, developing a recommendations framework, and evaluating a range of scenarios.

Final report 

In January 2019, TPB staff presented the key findings from the Regional Bus Service Provision Study to the TPB Technical Committee. Read the report to learn more about how your transit agency can collaborate with its neighbors to better serve our region’s transit riders.

Read the full Regional Bus Service Provision Study.

Arianna Koudounas is a transportation planner for the TPB.  She serves long-term regional transportation planning efforts, including co-managing the biennial Regional Air Passenger Survey and overseeing a multimodal range of technical studies.

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