Joniece Harris has a long commute to work even though she doesn’t deal with the worst of rush hour.
The 22-year-old Germantown resident first hops on the local 74 bus from Germantown to the Shady Grove Metro station, then rides the Red Line to Metro Center.
In Washington, D.C., she switches to either the Blue, Silver or Orange line and heads four stops west to Rosslyn in Arlington, VA.
She then catches the 12:23 p.m. 5A Metrobus to Washington Dulles International Airport, where she works as a line service technician in a side terminal.
Without that final bus line, Harris said she would likely lose her job.
“(The 5A takes) 30 to 45 minutes with the traffic I would say. But it gets you there way faster than the Silver Line,” said Harris.
She estimated the bus line takes less than half the time it would take if she rode the Silver Line all the way to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station and caught the Washington Flyer Bus to the airport.
If some Metro board members have their way, the afternoon 5A bus Harris takes to work would be eliminated as a daily route to the airport in Loudoun County.
Although the line only runs through Washington, D.C. and Virginia, the 5A bus has significance for Maryland residents.
Just exactly what that significance is depends on who’s talking.
According to Metro Board of Directors chairman Mortimer Downey, roughly 15 percent of the 5A riders live in Maryland, so the bus does serve at least some people, like Harris, who live north of the Potomac River.
“They were willing to hold up the whole budget unless the route was canceled,” said Downey.
Michael Goldman, the first vice chairman from Maryland, countered the 5A matters to local residents because money spent by the state supporting that line could be used for other local projects contained entirely in Maryland.
“To the extent that Maryland’s Department of Transportation funds have to go to subsidizing that bus route, those funds are not going to be there to be able to subsidize bus routes in Montgomery County or Prince George’s County that probably mean a lot more for riders in Montgomery County or Prince George’s,” said Goldman.
For example, he said state and local officials in Maryland “would like to see some Metro Express bus service along the Veirs Mill corridor,” with limited stop service from Rockville to Wheaton and Silver Spring.
Goldman said he had not seen the figures about the 15 percent of Maryland riders taking the 5A, he offered it’s not surprising since some people from Maryland work at Dulles and need to arrive to work early in the morning.
Likewise, he added he’s sure some Virginians and Washingtonians ride the B30 bus connecting the Greenbelt Metro station to Baltimore-Washington/Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI).
The cost is the same for B30 and 5A riders: $7 each way.
However, because the BWI bus runs entirely within Maryland, it’s considered a local route, which means Virginia and Washington don’t have to pay for its operational costs.
Meanwhile, the Dulles bus starts at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, heads west to Rosslyn and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride Lot., and then terminates at Dulles.
That makes the 5A a regional route since it connects Washington and Virginia.
A Dec. 31, 2014 Metro FY 2016 Metro budget memorandum states, “As a regional route, Maryland contributes to the 5A service to Dulles, while DC and Virginia do not contribute to the non-regional B30 service from Greenbelt to BWI.”
Goldman argued that’s a problem since people who live in those areas also take the bus to BWI and more passengers flew from BWI than Dulles in FY 2015.
That’s led to a debate over equity and whether to cut back the 5A to just serve early morning or late night riders.
Another option is phasing out the 5A altogether.
All of Maryland’s $188,100 annual contribution to the 5A comes from Prince George’s County with $0 from Montgomery County. The rest of the 5A’s special allocation formula comes from Washington ($405,900) and three Virginia localities ($396,000).
Cutting service on the 5A before 2019 could be problematic for riders like Harris though since the second phase of the Silver Line, connecting Reston to Dulles, is not due to open before then.
Regular riders would have to drive to or take Metro to Reston and then catch ground transportation to the airport not run by WMATA.
Goldman conceded that some riders “can’t use Metro rail and the Fairfax Connector to get to Dulles because it doesn’t start early enough, so we have to meet their needs as well as most of the riders and travelers to Dulles.”
Even when WMATA completes the Silver Line to Dulles, “it’s probably not going to operate early enough in the day, 5 or 5:30 in the morning, to get those early morning riders on time (to work) but that may not be the case.
“It may be that when the Silver Line is competed to Dulles, the riders can get on the first shift to get to work on time,” he added.
Harris, the 5A rider from Germantown, explained it’s her experience the Metrobus is less likely than the Silver Line to be taken out of service for technical difficulties and it won’t have delays due to single-tracking.
She said when she takes Metrorail, she is “hoping and praying” to get to the Washington Flyer on time.
As a line service technician, she is required to clock in upon her arrival.
The Germantown resident recalled calling WMATA on a work day before her commute and heard Metro was not single-tracking and there were no delays.
When she reached Shady Grove, she learned Metro was, in fact, single-tracking and severe delays made her late for work.
“(It takes) way more than I want to,” said Harris about the rail line. “And I would be late.”
With the Washington Flyer Bus, she first has to ride to the end of the Silver Line at Wiehle-Reston East in order to catch the bus.
She said with fewer stops and fewer chances of breakdowns or problems, she can rely on the 5A bus to get to her job at Dulles Airport.
“Metro bus: it’s a straight shot. We have three stops,” she said.
If Harris is late 13 times, she would be fired.
“(With the) Washington Flyer, I may have missed the timing, because the Silver Line has so many problems,” she said.
During a Sept. 17 public hearing, Metro officials heard from about 60 people who showed up and testified about proposed changes to Metro rail and bus lines.
“5A was the most (commented). It might have been a dozen,” said Downey, adding that Fort Lincoln “was also close to that.
“Those were definitely double digits,” he added, mentioning no other topic received more than a handful of mentions.
No cuts to the 5A are planned to happen immediately. Board members are waiting on Metro staffers to first file a report about the bus line next month.
“I would expect there would be some 5A service continuing after staff and board members complete their deliberations,” said Goldman.
@pwcdanica and @kathleenstubbs3