Even outside of rush-hour, Patricia Hubbard, who lives just outside Fairfax City, still needs to get places. Hubbard, who does not own a car, relies entirely on Metro schedules to get around, which sometimes leads to problems.
"Let's say we want to do a walkathon on Sunday," she said one day last week as she stood waiting for her bus outside the Vienna Metro station. "The Metro doesn't open 'til 8 and you have to get down to the [National] Mall."
Getting to her Farragut West office and back is generally not a problem, she said. The ride takes about 50 minutes during rush-hour and about an hour at off-peak times. Hubbard also said she would use a suburb-to-suburb transit system such as light rail if it were ever to be built.
Keith Jones, a Houston native living in Centreville, said that he would like to see more buses on the 12E line.
"If you need to get out mid-morning from downtown you can't get the bus out," he said. Westbound bus service does not start until 11:30, he added.
Jones also suggested granting buses a dedicated lane or moving the High Occupancy Vehicle lane to the right so that buses could use it without having to cut across several lanes of rush-hour traffic
<b>OFFICIALS FROM</b> the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority took concerns like Hubbard's and Jones' into account during their two-year Regional Bus Study which wrapped up last month.
The study asked 40,000 system users and 1,000 nonriders the improvements they wished to see in the Metrobus system.
Many requests were for more buses, on time. Almost half of the system users cited on-time bus arrival and almost a third cited frequency of service. One in four mentioned longer hours and 22 percent spoke of overcrowding.
Among nonriders, almost one third said they wanted better information, 21 percent cited better shelters and 18 percent mentioned the need for convenient stops.
"This is a very important process for transportation and the region," Art Lawson, the study's project manager at WMATA said at a recent town hall meeting. "We have to make sure we [upgrade] our transportation services to meet those needs."
The study recommended expanding hours of operation and frequency of service as well as modifying routes to better integrate bus and rail service with the goal of doubling ridership by 2025.
In Fairfax County, Metro planners suggested implementing a rapid bus system to run along the Dulles corridor into Loudoun County, Shirley Highway, Columbia Pike, Route 1 and Route 50. Rapid bus service was also proposed to parallel existing rail lines to alleviate overcrowding in the trains.
<b>RAPID BUS SERVICE</b> would include features such as designated lanes, parking and "kiss and ride" facilities.
Susan Bregman, a consultant with Multisystems Inc. who contributed to the study, said it was particularly important for WMATA to better serve the booming areas of western Fairfax and Loudoun counties
"Transit service has not kept pace with the rapid residential and commercial growth in outer Virginia," she said.
The study also outlined several proposed new lines in Fairfax County which would make it easier for people to commute from one part of the county to another. At least two new lines would run between Springfield and Tysons Corner. Another would connect Dulles Town Center to West Falls Church and another would link Route 1 and Route 7 via Fair Oaks.
A number of neighborhood routes were also proposed to get people from their homes to the closest major transit points.
All service improvements would be in place by 2010.
<b>AT A JUNE 15 SEMINAR</b> on possible transit improvements, Chris Zimmerman, Metro Board chairman, said needed service improvements were "a matter of making our minds up to making serious steps."
According to Zimmerman, making a decision will be less difficult than in the past.
"There's a vision emerging," he said, noting the current popularity of ideas such as smart growth. "That's clearly starting to take hold."
Increased heavy rail, light rail or rapid bus transit will all be considered, he said.
Zimmerman also stressed the need to link transportation planning to land use planning, noting that transit planners should partner with developers because both stand to gain from soaring real estate values around transit hubs.
"Where we've been most successful is where we've gotten the mix of transit and land use right," he said.
<b>THE NEW NORTHERN</b> Virginia Regional Transportation Authority could take the lead in pushing for expanded transit options, Zimmerman said. If the new body — which is to come into being July 1 — can resist becoming yet another layer of bureaucracy, it could become the ideal champion for transit improvements, he said.
Zimmerman also serves as the chairman of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors and, as such, will sit on the new transportation authority, NVRTA.
"I think the Northern Virginia Regional Transportation Authority is going to have to take the lead and do the entire transportation system in Northern Virginia and that means transit as well as highways," said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Kate Hanley (D-At Large), who will also sit on the NVRTA. The authority
"has to do the projects that are earmarked but there are other possibilities as well."