Fairfax Connector proposes bus service changes, fare hike

The side of a Fairfax Connector bus (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax Connector is gathering public input on a plan to adjust bus service while increasing fares by 12.5%.

If approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the fare changes will take effect on July 1. The Connector’s policy is to match Metrobus fares, which will increase in an effort by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to address a budget shortfall.

Riders on one express route, however, will get some relief. The fare for Route 599, which provides rush-hour service between the Reston North Park and Ride and the Pentagon Metro station, will decrease from $7.50 to $4.80 to match the Connector’s other express bus rates.

At a virtual public meeting on Tuesday (May 14), Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff also outlined proposed service changes that are slated to take effect in December, including the addition of two routes.

The service adjustments follow a first phase of changes in the Centreville, Chantilly, Vienna and Tysons (CCVT) areas that will take effect on June 22. The changes are intended to provide access to the new Springfield and Monument Drive commuter parking garages, which are supposed to open this summer.

Some riders who attended Tuesday’s meeting expressed exasperation with Fairfax Connector’s current routes, saying it can take two hours to reach places that are only 15 minutes away by car.

A Reston resident said her son takes three buses to reach Northern Virginia Community College’s (NOVA) Sterling campus.

“Is there any way to make it easier for the students? He’s been struggling this year. The class starts at 9:30 a.m., and he has to leave home at 6:45 a.m. to get there on time,” she said. “It’s three buses for a short distance. That’s ridiculous. I’m trying to motivate him to go, but I’m afraid that one day he’s going to give up.”

Rayana Nabih said he just completed his first year at NOVA and relies on Fairfax Connector.

“I can’t [take] two hours to get to a morning class that starts at 8 a.m.,” Nabih said. “I’ve had to take Uber with the money I’m trying to save to go to Mason, and relying on Fairfax Connector has caused me a lot of issues…It’s exhausting, it’s hard for me. I feel like there isn’t any convenient transportation for low-income families.”

FCDOT planners said they can examine ridership patterns to see what options could make it easier to reach NOVA’s campus in Loudoun County. The Connector began serving the campus more than a year ago; before that, there was no way to get there from Fairfax County by bus. Ridership isn’t large, but it’s growing, staff said.

“The planning team has done a really great job of trying to add access to as many schools [as we can] as quickly as we can, given the budget that’s available,” Kala Quintana, Fairfax Connector’s head of marketing, said.

The proposed route changes in phase two of the CCVT plan include:

Route 610

The new route will link George Mason University, Fairfax County Government Center, Route 29 and Centreville. It also provides a link to the new Monument Drive Park & Ride, which will have 820 free parking spaces and enable riders to transfer to 15 other Connector routes, the Fairfax CUE bus and Metrobus.

It will operate weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 10:21 p.m. every 30 minutes at peak times and hourly at off-peak times. Buses will run hourly on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 7:51 p.m. but will not operate on Sundays.

Route 670

The second proposed new route links Chantilly with the Franconia Metro station, via Route 50, the Monument Drive garage, Vienna Metro station and I-495. Transfers to 11 other Connector routes are available, as well as the Fairfax CUE, Metrobus and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE).

It will operate only on weekdays at peak times: 5-9:52 a.m. and 3:20-7:57 p.m.

Route 921 (Herndon Circulator): Buses will run every 30 minutes at off-peak hours, and services will end at 7:45 p.m. instead of 7:48 p.m. Planners say the changes will improve reliability.

Route 335 (Fort Belvoir): Buses are being detoured because the John Kingman gate at Fort Belvoir is frequently closed. Fairfax Connector plans to make this route change permanent.

Detours could also become permanent for Route 351 and Route 352, which both connect the Transportation Security Administration’s Springfield headquarters and the Franconia Metro station. Gate closures implemented by the TSA forced the buses to change routes.

A second virtual public hearing on the proposed changes will be held at 7 p.m. today (Thursday), and a survey will be available online until May 28.

After gathering public input this spring, Fairfax Connector will continue refining CCVT Phase 2 and present it to the Board of Supervisors for approval in the fall.