I arrived at the stop at Williamsburg and University next to the fire station at 8:29, six minutes before the scheduled arrival time of 8:35. I've heard from friends who are regular Ride On patrons that routes 8 and 19 often run early, so I arrived a few minutes beforehand in anticipation of this. I sat down at the stop and checked the Transit app on my phone to see if the bus was close by. The app originally said the 19 would arrive in 5 minutes, and the icon on the map showed the bus at Dennis and University. It appeared that the bus would show up on time.
Around 8:40, I began to get suspicious. It had been 10 minutes, and the app kept refreshing the time to say that the bus was 2 or 3 minutes away, and the bus icon on the map hadn't moved from University and Dennis. My only guess as to the cause was that the bus was delayed in traffic approaching the intersection. At 8:45, a C4 scheduled to arrive after the 19 passed by the stop, meaning the 19 couldn't have been stuck in traffic west of Four Corners, or it would have arrived before the C4. Around this time, the bus icon on the map mysteriously disappeared and the "minutes until arrival" showed null, as if the bus had already passed... but it hadn't.
|The 19 seen on University Boulevard last summer. Photo by the author.|
I ended up walking over to Colesville Road and taking the Z6 to Silver Spring, after wasting about 20 minutes at University and Williamsburg waiting for the 19. Once I got on the Metro, I tweeted to Ride On (@RideOnMCT) about the no-show, and they replied saying they'll look into what happened. I'm still waiting for thier response, but I suspect that the bus either ran way early or that the 8:20 bus (the time it should have left the origin at Brunett and Forest Glen) never ran its route that day.
This incident reminded me of why I don't ride this route, as it was my second negative experience with the 19 in just the handful of trips I've taken on the route. In the summer of 2013, I tried to ride it home from Silver Spring, and after the bus didn't show up at it's scheduled time, I started to walk along it's route planning to get on as it passed by (I rather walk than stand still). After walking for 40 minutes along Wayne, Flower, and Franklin avenues, the bus finally showed up at Franklin and University. By that point, I was so close to home I didn't bother getting on.
While I have been disappointed in the level of service provided by the 19, I don't expect much from it. A route like the 19 is borderline unusable due to its infrequency, limited operating time, and unpredictability. The 19 is one of Ride On's many "coverage routes", or routes whose purpose is to cover certain areas of the county that are not well served by MetroBus. Because such coverage routes are normally designed to serve subdivisions of single family homes, they are often circuitous (due to poor road connectivity in suburban areas), indirect (due to the need to serve different subdivisions that are not along the logical path from the origin point to the terminus), and infrequent (due to low density and therefore low ridership).
It would be nice if the 19 were enhanced to run at lower headways and at more times of day, but it wouldn't be worth the increased operating costs. The nature of the land uses and demographics along the 19's route simply do not justify a higher level of service. There is only so much ridership potential in subdivisions of single family homes, and while more frequent headways can attract more riders, there couldn't be enough of an increase to justify the cost because the pool of potential riders is just too small. Also, many people who live along the 19's route are close enough to a frequent corridor like Coelsville Road or Wayne Avenue that they do not need to ride the 19, since they can find much better service on those two corridors (Z2, Z6, and Z8 on Colesville and 12, 13, and J4 on Wayne, all of which run more frequently and during more times of the day than the 19).
In a later post, I'll look at what can be done about such coverage routes to provide a better level of service. I'll also look at how future BRT lines are an opportunity to provide a better level of service to low density subdivisions like those in Four Corners through the use of "flex zones", citing Houston's recent "Transit System Reimagining" as an example.
Until then, I'll be riding the Z lines to Silver Spring.