Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why I don't use Ride On route 19

This past week, I started a summer internship in DC.  My commute involves taking a bus to the Silver Spring Metro from my home in Woodmoor and then taking the train downtown to the office.  On Wednesday, I decided to try the Ride On 19.  I normally ride the Z lines on Colesville Road whenever I need to get to Silver Spring, since they have much lower headways and are more direct than the 19.  However, the walk to the nearest 19 stop on University is about .45 miles closer to my house than the nearest Z stop over on Colesville, so I figured I'd try the 19 this morning.

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.                      


  1. LOL. My significant other keeps assuring me that the 19 and 8 exist, but I remain skeptical. (I have caught these a couple times each, but never on purpose). The 19 is all but useless. The 8 is the only bus that connects areas west of University to Forest Glen metro, and in theory could be really quite useful, and really should be improved (post-sunset and Sunday service!).

  2. Thanks for your post focusing on Ride On Route 19 (RO19). I share your frustration with RO19, but I do think there are some things that Ride-On could do to make it better. When I am not bicycle commuting, I typically use the bus to travel between my residence and the Silver Spring Metro Station . A number of factors make RO19 appealing to me. The bus stop for RO19 is the closest to my house (stops for RO13 and RO14 are also close). RO19 generally runs at convenient times for me. RO19 stays of Colesville which is often traffic choked. The bus is quicker than walking. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems that make RO19 and other Ride On buses difficult to rely on. First, during inclement weather, it is really impossible to determine whether the bus is running. Ride On claims to have an "S Service Plan" for reduced service during weather events and that it will announce that this plan is in effect in various places including its website. But I never found that information to be available. Furthermore, I can't verify it, but I strongly suspect that Ride On just doesn't run routes like RO19 during inclement weather. But there is no reliable information available to tell me the bus has been cancelled. A second and related problem is that, even when the weather is fine, individual, schedule RO19 buses (and some other routes) appear to be sometimes cancelled without any warning or information available. The bus never comes and one never knows why. Some information is available via the RideOnRealTime website, but that information isn't always reliable. Also, if you plan to board the bus at the Silver Spring Metro Station, I have never found a way to access real time schedule information for that location (i.e. the origin of the route). This fact combines with the third problem to create a real headache--the bus seems to always leave the Silver Spring Metro Station 4 to 5 minutes early. Always. Except when its late, which it often is. So, even if you arrive three or four minutes early for the bus, you have no idea when or whether the bus is coming. For me, the net effect is that RO19, as convenient as it is for me, is rendered practically useless by problems that could be fixed without investing in expensive things like more frequent service. So, I usually do the same thing you do and walk to a more major road to catch the more frequent, reliable bus service. But I would prefer the ride the RO19.

  3. I do not ride the 19 - but I sure can relate to your Rideon experiences! Many routes just disappear with no explanation - riders are left waiting out in the cold and wet for ANOTHER 1/2 hour wondering if the Transit app is having a blip or the driver is taking a long break or any of 100 scenarios.
    Also have witnessed the leave-by-a-couple-minutes-early syndrome from Silver Spring metro -- we all have GPS and smartphones and know when they pull out early and it is very uncool - especially for those running to make a transfer from another bus or the train to see the 10:10 bus pulling away and you are there at 10:09.