Fairfax Connector could be free for all children ages 12 and under.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s current policy is kids under 5 years old do not need to pay a fare. The new policy would extend that to all children under 12.
Older children can already get a free student bus pass: all Fairfax County middle and high school students can ride on all Fairfax County routes and some Metrobus routes for free between 5 a.m.-10 p.m. with a student bus pass. The transportation department said in a presentation the change would “close a gap” in the county’s fare-free policy for kids.
Those children would still obviously need to be accompanied by a fare-paying adult to receive a free fare.
In a presentation, the Department of Transportation said there are several potential benefits to the change.
- Closes the gap in fare-free travel for children between ages 5-12
- Increases accessibility and removes barriers to travel for parents. Especially beneficial for trips to access medical or social services
- This change will help children become acclimated to using public transit from an early age thereby creating increased transportation alternatives
FCDOT is collecting feedback on the proposed change until next Friday, March 10.
The policy change is scheduled to be presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on April 11. If approved, it would take effect on April 30.
Fairfax Connector launched a pilot last month allowing low-income riders to get half-price fares.
A man from Springfield is facing multiple charges after stabbing another man’s hand and stealing a bus driver’s cell phone while riding Fairfax Connector in Tysons.
Fairfax County police responded to the intersection of Jones Branch Drive and International Drive at 12:52 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 11) after getting a report that a person had been stabbed.
The altercation started as a verbal argument between three men on the bus that escalated “to one of the men being stabbed in the hand,” according to the Fairfax County Police Department.
“The suspect then stole the bus driver’s cell phone and ran away,” the FCPD said.
The chase didn’t last long. With the assistance of the department’s Fairfax 1 helicopter, officers quickly located the suspect as he attempted to run into Freddie Mac’s headquarters on Park Run Drive, per a Twitter user who follows police scanner traffic.
The man who got stabbed was taken to a hospital with injuries that police say aren’t considered life-threatening.
The suspect — identified as 28-year-old Lionel Aguilar Cantareo, of Springfield — was arrested and has been charged with three counts of robbery and preventing a person from summoning law enforcement, the FCPD says.
The robbery charges include two counts of using physical force not resulting in serious bodily injury or displaying a weapon other than a firearm “in a threatening manner,” which is classified as a Class 5 felony by Virginia law.
Cantareo is currently being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond, according to police.
The suspect fled on foot, but Fairfax 1 was overhead quickly and found him running from the scene. Patrol units with the assistance of a VSP Trooper took him into custody as he attempted to run into Freddie Mac's HQ on Park Run Dr.
— Henry Bright (@HCBright10) February 11, 2023
The Fairfax Board of Supervisors recently got a preview of what future transit connections between Tysons and Maryland could look like.
At a transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 31), Todd Horsley, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s director of Northern Virginia Transit Programs, presented a study of how transit could make use of the I-495 Express Lanes being extended from Springfield across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Horsley pointed out, repeatedly, that the designs presented were not a plan, but part of a study that could be used in case those transit plans came along later.
“The VDOT study…[is] to extend I-495 Express Lanes across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Maryland,” Horsley said. “The document we will produce is a study, not a plan. We believe it will provide a solid foundation for a future planning effort if or when there is a funded capital project in the corridor to plan for.”
Currently, there is limited bus service along I-495 and across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. But if new I-495 toll lanes are built, Horsley said the department wanted to provide a look at what future transit connectivity on those lanes could look like.
The short-term plans — which Horsley said could be implemented almost immediately using the express lanes — could include an express route that would run from Tysons down to Alexandria. The other route could connect Tysons to locations in Maryland.
The mid-term plans doubled down on that Maryland connection with bus routes connecting Tysons to Oxon Hill, Clinton, National Harbor, and even up into Navy Yard in D.C. Those routes, Horsley said, could be implemented sometime between this year and 2045.
The longer-term connections beyond 2045 would include both more extensive bus coverage connecting Fairfax County and parts of Alexandria, and curling that cross-Woodrow Wilson Bridge connection up into The Wharf.
The study also included a model of a rail connection from Huntington into Maryland, but Horsley said it didn’t show a huge benefit in the short term for ridership compared to buses on express routes.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said despite the lack of short-term benefits in the modeling, the proposal would be worth keeping an eye on.
“I recognize the first stage of that could be using bus transportation and etcetera,” Storck said, “but if we’re looking at 2040 and 2045 and we’re not looking at what fits in after that, I think we’re making a big mistake.”
Public comments on the I-495 Southside transit study will be accepted via e-mail to email@example.com through Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Photo via Google Maps
A Fairfax County Public Schools bus had a tire catch fire while on Route 7 yesterday (Wednesday), causing some alarm in the surrounding Pimmit Hills neighborhood.
The tire fire occurred around 11:42 a.m. on Leesburg Pike in front of the Trader Joe’s shopping center near Pimmit Drive, as first reported by the Falls Church News-Press.
The bus driver noticed smoke coming from the vehicle’s wheel area and evacuated the students who were on board, according to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.
“Tire fire was small and did not catch fire until students were off,” FCFRD spokesperson William Delaney said, confirming that there were no injuries to students or staff.
FCPS says the bus was towed by Fairfax County’s Department of Vehicle Services, which manages and maintains the fleets for both the county government and the school system. The department “will conduct a thorough investigation,” an FCPS spokesperson said.
Community members on Nextdoor reported hearing explosions, with one resident saying the “second one” made their house shake. Another person said they could hear and feel the explosions from Idylwood Road.
Delaney told FFXnow that the “explosion” was from the tire “popping.”
H/t to Alan Henney
A bus route carrying passengers between western Fairfax County and Tysons on the new I-66 Express Lanes will take effect early next month.
Fairfax Connector will start operating its new Route 660 on Monday, Feb. 6, providing weekday, rush-hour service from the Stone Road Park & Ride in Centreville to the Tysons Metro station, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation announced Friday (Jan. 20).
The route will include stops at the Fairfax County Government Center, the Vienna Metro station and the intersection of Tysons Blvd and Westbranch Drive.
With the addition, the transit agency will eliminate Route 644, which currently connects Centreville and the Sully Government Center to the Vienna Metro on weekdays.
A couple of tweaks to service in the Reston and Herndon area will also go into effect on Saturday, Feb. 4:
- Route 937: Coppermine-Elden-Herndon Metrorail Station — Southbound service on Route 937 will be realigned to serve Coppermine Rd, with a left turn to Frying Pan Rd. Northbound Route 937 remains unchanged.
- Route 951: Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station to Innovation Center Metrorail Station — Eastbound service realigned to serve Coppermine Rd, with left turn to Frying Pan Rd. Westbound remains unchanged.
The service changes were approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in September. They’re being implemented slightly later than previously anticipated.
In a report, county staff said the changes are intended “to improve the customer experience and increase ridership through improved connectivity, on-time performance, service reliability, and effectiveness.”
A new dashboard looking at transit around the region illustrates Fairfax Connector’s slow climb back to pre-pandemic ridership levels.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission recently released an interactive website that lets users break down ridership at various local transit services and compare and contrast those figures.
For Fairfax Connector, data from the last year of ridership shows a stark upswing that started in June and has gradually brought the system back up to pre-pandemic levels.
The bus system had a promising start to 2020 with 669,501 riders that January — higher than numbers for that month in previous years. Those numbers dove over the next two months as the Covid pandemic kicked into gear, dropping to a low of 248,866 riders in April.
Ridership only marginally recovered through the rest of 2020 and 2021, but the pace of recovery picked up in 2022 and shot up from June to July, reaching a post-pandemic high of 738,968 riders in August 2022. In September, Fairfax Connector surpassed pre-pandemic ridership for the same month for the first time since February 2020.
The Connector isn’t alone in this recovery. DASH in Alexandria and the CUE bus in the City of Fairfax saw similar recoveries in the second half of 2022.
In Alexandria, DASH’s dramatic uptick in ridership seemed fueled in part by switching to a fare-free system. Fairfax County was considering a similar move for the Connector, but that was tabled by the Board of Supervisors earlier this month in favor of a discounted rate for low-income passengers.
Overall transit ridership in the area, though, remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels — in large part due to Metro accounting for more than 78.6% of the region’s ridership.
Metro didn’t have quite the same dramatic return to pre-pandemic ridership in Virginia that Fairfax Connector experienced.
While Metro’s combined ridership for rail and bus was higher every month in 2022 than it was in 2021, it’s still half what it was in 2018 and 2019. In Virginia, Metro’s ridership for September was roughly 4.1 million — less than half of the 9.2 million riders in 2019.
Fairfax County doesn’t have the same high percentage of access to transit — around 61.3% of the total population — compared to neighbors like Arlington and Alexandria, but that’s to be expected given that it’s significantly larger with less urbanized areas.
(Updated at 4:25 p.m. on 1/3/2023) An ongoing study of the possibility of having bus rapid transit (BRT) service from Tysons to Alexandria can now proceed confident that the planning will be seen through to completion.
The $1.7 trillion federal spending bill that Congress approved on Friday (Dec. 23), just in time to avert a potential government shutdown, included $2 million to complete all planning and environmental studies needed for the project, known as Envision Route 7.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission — the recipient of the funds — has been studying whether and how to bring dedicated bus service to Route 7 between the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons and the Mark Center in Alexandria since 2013.
The fourth and latest phase of the study — a mobility analysis evaluating the benefits and impacts of BRT — got underway in October 2021. Expected to finish in April, it will be followed by environmental and preliminary engineering design work.
Reps. Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer requested that funds for the project be included in the omnibus bill so it can “complete the planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis to prepare…for design and construction,” according to a press release from Beyer’s office.
The proposed BRT will provide “high-quality, frequent” bus service along a corridor that’s already the second busiest for buses in Virginia, Connolly said in a separate release:
This BRT project will provide a reliable and affordable transportation option for communities along this corridor; provide a green transportation option that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help in the battle against climate change; reduce congestion along a key transportation corridor in Northern Virginia already benefitting from significant economic development and investment; leverage a range of federal, Commonwealth, regional, and local transportation funds; connect major employment centers (U.S. Department of Defense Mark Center, Bailey’s Crossroads, Seven Corners, West Falls Church and Tysons); and further enhance a robust and growing transit system in Northern Virginia.
“The #EnvisionRoute7 BRT will provide as many as 42,000 daily transit trips giving people access to opportunities throughout our region with direct transit connections to Metro at Tysons and East Falls Church, as well as to the new Alexandria West End Transitway,” NVTC said on Twitter, thanking Connolly and Beyer for securing the funds.
The #EnvisionRoute7 BRT will provide as many as 42,000 daily transit trips giving people access to opportunities throughout our region with direct transit connections to Metro at Tysons and East Falls Church, as well as to the new Alexandria West End Transitway.
— NVTC (@NoVaTransit) December 23, 2022
The Tysons segment of the BRT will include six stops, traveling up International Drive and looping around the Spring Hill Metro before taking International back down to Route 7 (Leesburg Pike).
The service will use two transit-only lanes that Fairfax County plans to build by widening Route 7 from Route 123 to the Capital Beltway.
From Tysons, the route continues through Falls Church City, into the Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads area, and down to Alexandria. NVTC held a community meeting to discuss the Falls Church portion in October.
Other Fairfax County projects that got funding from the federal spending package include a cycle track on Sunrise Valley Drive to the Innovation Center Metro station, pedestrian and bicycle upgrades near the Vienna Metro station, and a renovation of the Little River Glen Senior Center near Fairfax City.
A bus driver was indicted by a grand jury yesterday (Tuesday) for allegedly driving drunk while transporting D.C. kindergarten students home from a trip to Cox Farms in Centreville.
Troy Reynolds, 48, faces nine felony charges of child endangerment and three misdemeanor charges, including a second offense of driving while intoxicated, driving with a disqualified commercial license, and driving a bus without a commercial driver’s license, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced today.
“My office takes crimes that endanger children very seriously,” Descano said in the press release. “We’re grateful to our partners at the Fairfax County Police Department for their collaboration on this case.”
CA Descano announced that a grand jury indicted Troy Reynolds, 48, for charges related to driving a school bus full of kindergartners while intoxicated. pic.twitter.com/UAJZvcnjpF
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) December 21, 2022
Reynolds was arrested on Oct. 27 after he reportedly drove a school bus carrying 44 students and four adults from Murch Elementary School off the road, hitting a rock and flattening a tire. Nine kids were injured, according to Descano’s office.
At the insistence of staff on board, the bus stopped in the 1500 block of Conference Center Drive in Chantilly, and the kids were transferred to the Fairfax Criminal Justice Academy, where two buses provided by Fairfax County Public Schools took them to D.C.
The FCPD said at the time that a test revealed that Reynolds had a blood alcohol content of .20. Officers also found that his commercial driver’s license had been revoked in Virginia due to a prior DWI and suspended in Maryland.
The case will go to trial tomorrow (Thursday), according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Fairfax County is poised to halve Fairfax Connector fares for low-income riders, beginning in February, through a pilot program.
The Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) is a state grant initiative that aims to increase transit ridership. Reduced fares would only apply to individuals whose annual income is at or below 225% of the federal poverty level by household size. That would put the eligibility cap around $29,000 for an individual or $59,625 for a family of four.
The state awarded the county roughly $5.5 million for a three-year pilot program, which includes a county share of $4.2 million.
But at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee meeting last week, staff and board members concurred that permanently cutting fares for the bus system was not a financially prudent decision and could impact quality of service.
Instead, staff recommended continuing the county’s existing free fare programs, including free student bus passes and reduced fares for seniors and passengers with disabilities. Other programs include free transfers to and from WMATA bus and rail service and free rides for children under 4.
Staff also recommended expanding free fare to children between ages 5 and 11 with a paying adult.
Board Chairman Jeff McKay said that he supported the recommendation.
“I do think if we were to go full fare free, I am worried out about our capacity issues to be able to accommodate and degradation of service that may come as a result of that,” he said.
However, he said he was concerned that only up to two children could be eligible for free fares when traveling with a parent or guardian, asking the county to examine removing that cap.
Fairfax County Director of Transportation Tom Biesadny said his department would gladly look into the issue — which has remain untouched since the service began.
Bus fare reductions and eliminations have gained momentum in the D.C. region, as local leaders look to encourage the use of transit after ridership tumbled due to the pandemic. D.C. will waive Metrobus fares starting July 1, and Alexandria’s DASH system has been fare-free since fall 2021, though the operating costs may not be sustainable long-term.
John Zarbo of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation noted that while free fares would provide equitable access, increase ridership and cut fare collection cost, the possible repercussions were more severe.
Consequences include the loss of roughly $9 million in yearly ridership revenue, an increase in non-destination riders that could lead to security issues, and possible Title VI civil rights concerns on the impact of free fares to non-economically disadvantaged riders.
Staff also noted that the county would lose data specific to riders or fare categories because of the lack of a fare box, and the program could result in an inequitable benefit to county riders with only Metrobus options.
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said she hopes the county will continue to find ways to invest in the program.
“We’re building lifelong riders,” she said.
Recently completed bus bays near the Herndon Metro Station are officially open and awaiting the start of rail service on Nov. 15.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday (Thursday), town and Fairfax County officials gathered to celebrate the opening of the $5.9 million project, designed to give Fairfax Connector buses and cars convenient access to the Metro station.
The project also includes shelters and a neighboring signalized crosswalk.
The bus bay provides drop-off lanes in both directions along Herndon Parkway. The signalized crosswalk also allows pedestrians a “safe crossing of Herndon Parkway,” according to the town.
State Sen. Jennifer Boysko thanked the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for making the project possible.
“This project accomplishes NVTA’s goal, specifically around traffic congestion, which is our mission,” she said.
Noting that Herndon will be the only town in Virginia to have a Metro station in its town limits, Mayor Sheila Olem said the bus bay project is critical to addressing traffic congestion in the area, which has been an issue for 20 years.
“It’s gonna be great for the…safety of those using the Metro whether they’re walking, bussing or biking to the Metro,” Olem said.
Designed by Clark Nelson and built by Arthur Construction, the project began in August 2021.
The town pitched in $1.2 million for the project, along with an additional $41.5 million through general bonds. A combination of federal, regional and local grants filled the remainder of the price tag.
Phase II of the Silver Line is expected to open on Nov. 15.
Other transportation infrastructure to support the 11.4-mile extension in Loudoun County are also on the way, including changes to Fairfax Connector service.