Burke, Va., and Paris, France — that's right, the one with the Eiffel Tower — share an air of exclusivity. They are the only municipalities in the world with a subscription bus service.
Although Paris has had the bus service for a while, Burke launched its "VRE EZ Bus" service on Monday, Dec. 1. The new passenger bus system has two routes that wend their way around the Braddock District area, transporting passengers to and from the Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station during weekday rush hours.
"This is the only place in the world that has a subscription bus like this, except Paris," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock).
Burke resident Christian Biskaduros attends Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C. His method of commuting was a ride from his parents to the Burke Centre VRE station until he got handed a flier about the bus system at the station one day. He called that night and signed up.
"It's really convenient," Biskaduros said. "It goes right near my house."
Riders must be signed up before they can have the chance to meet the bus at established areas along the two routes. One route, the north service area, starts at Ox Road, travels down Adare Drive to John Ayres Drive, winds through the neighborhood, along Zion Drive to Sideburn, through side streets to Roberts Parkway and to the VRE station. The south route starts at Premier Court, travels onto Roberts Parkway and through a neighborhood, passes along Freds Oak Road to Oak Leather and continues on down Burke Centre Parkway to Roberts and back to the station. For exact routes, see the VRE Web site (www.VRE.org).
Bulova was a driving force behind the service. It's a pilot program to relieve the parking congestion at Burke Centre and will be re-evaluated after one year. Funding for the program came from a directive by Gov. Mark Warner (D) as a state-funded program to relieve the traffic congestion problem in the area.
"We've got money for one year," Bulova said.
After that, the program might move from state funding to county funding. That part still remains to be seen, but Bulova is enthusiastic about the possibilities.
"If it's successful, I'm committed to continue it for another year," Bulova said.
Jim Carrell of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation is familiar with the program. He hoped for an increase in use after the holidays.
"We had somewhat fewer customers than we expected, but that's understandable after Thanksgiving," Carrell said.
Carrell said the route may be altered in the future.
"We're going to wait at least 90 days to see what happens," he said.
Sixty-two passengers signed up for EZ Bus in its first week, said Mark Roeber, VRE spokesperson.
"We've seen a good response so far," Roeber said.
Each route takes about 20-25 minutes. In the afternoon, buses leave Burke Centre station seven different times, coinciding with train arrivals.
Tameik Hawkins is a evening driver on the north route. She was previously a Fairfax Connector driver on Bus 203 to Mount Air along Telegraph Road.
"The people that I've had so far, they like it," Hawkins said. "I see it expanding."
Gloria Clark drives the southern route in the evenings. She's had people ask about the service.
"We give them papers so they can subscribe," Clark said.
Although a new parking garage is being planned for the Burke Centre station because of increased popularity in VRE, EZ Bus is not reliant on the new garage.
"It really has nothing to do with the parking garage," Bulova said.
Roeber said that the Burke Centre parking lot is at 120-percent capacity and that VRE is in the process of incorporating more bi-level cars to accommodate more riders.
"The fleet in time will be exclusively double-decker," Roeber said.
The Woodbridge VRE lot is now at capacity, as is the Manassas station lot. VRE is in the process of adding 300 spaces to the Rippon Landing parking lot, as well.
COMMUTERS who call in to register receive a punch card worth 10 rides. People that are not subscribed can still ride if there is space available.
The morning route schedules are designed so the bus arrives at the VRE station five minutes before that train leaves, and the evening bus will leave the station when all riders have arrived. It will wait no longer than five minutes after the scheduled train arrives, which ensures that all riders catch the appropriate train.
EZ Bus is a free service, and riders can get a rebate on VRE tickets as well.