Circulator buses set to link Georgetown, Arlington

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Local,Liz Essley

D.C. Circulator buses will begin a new route that links Georgetown and Arlington starting Sept. 1, as the District Department of Transportation conducts a six-month study to figure out how many new Circulator routes it should add, and where, in the future.

The new route will take over from the privately run MetroConnection, aka "the blue bus," which runs between the Dupont Circle and Rosslyn Metro stations.

DDOT spokesman John Lisle estimated that the takeover will save D.C. money long term because the route will be in the more efficient Circulator system and will be able to tie into the Circulator's popularity. DDOT subsidized "the blue bus" in the last few years, paying $1 million in fiscal 2010, Lisle said.

The six-month study will help determine where the Circulator should expand by requesting input from residents, civic leaders and planners, according to DDOT. Established in 2005, the Circulator system now operates 43 buses on five -- soon to be six -- routes.

Expansion could include a route that would cross the east side of the Potomac River, starting near Martin Luther King Boulevard and stopping at Barracks Row, Lisle said. The route would start after October, he said.

The idea of a route to Barracks Row comes after D.C. Councilman Kwame Brown opposed the new route to Arlington earlier this year, saying the District should not provide a service to Virginia residents if it does not do the same for D.C. folks.

"It's clear that not all neighborhoods have benefited from the Circulator service, and that has to change," Brown said.

New routes have at least one major hurdle to cross: funding. Although DDOT has put $400,000 aside for the route east of the Potomac, it still needs more money for it and for any other new ones, Lisle said.

DDOT also decided to start "turnkey operations," in which the contractors buy the buses rather than DDOT. That frees up money so the agency could start new routes more quickly, Lisle said.

The new Georgetown route will be the first to operate this way, with contractor FirstTransit supplying the buses.

The public can participate in the planning study, which will end in November, by filling out the survey at dccirculator.com.

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