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A Bird e-scooter at The Boro in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County has now lived with shared electric scooters for almost half a year, and early data suggests the devices have been serving their intended function.

There has been one hiccup, however: Superpedestrian’s LINK — one of two vendors approved to operate in the county last July — did not renew its permit after it expired in January, according to the Fairfax County Department of Cable and Consumer Services, which regulates the Shared Mobility Device program.

For now, that means Bird is the only e-scooter operator in town, but Superpedestrian and the county say Link will return.

“Superpedestrian plans to continue serving Fairfax County,” Superpedestrian Director of Communications Jamie Perkins said by email. “We’re working with the County now on our permit renewal, so that our riders in Fairfax won’t experience a gap in service.”

Rebecca Makely, acting director for the Department of Cable and Consumer Services, said Superpedestrian had recently experienced “some staff turnover,” possibly contributing to the permit renewal delay.

The permits granted by the county allow operators to deploy up to 300 scooters each. Superpedestrian says it plans “to continue with that level of service.”

Prior to its permit expiration, usage of Link’s e-scooters in the county was on the rise, according to data that the company submitted to the county as required by its contract.

Link reported 702 total rides in August, when it started deploying its scooters, with an average trip distance of 0.77 miles. The number of rides increased every month, reaching 1,045 rides for January.

Maps showing where trips start and end indicate that the company’s devices are concentrated in Tysons, Merrifield, and Fairfax, particularly around George Mason University.

For Bird, ridership has trended in the opposite direction, starting at a high of 4,968 rides in September 2021. After hitting a low of 1,007 rides in February, though, the company saw its usage more than double for 2,309 rides in March, suggesting the previous drop could be related to the winter weather.

“We’ve been encouraged by ridership in Fairfax County and commend the County for their commitment to providing residents with an eco-friendly alternative mode of transportation,” Bird said in a statement. “As the weather warms up, we look forward to seeing more riders scooting around town.”

According to heat maps that Bird gave to the county, its scooters are primarily being used in Tysons, Reston, and Bailey’s Crossroads.

For both vendors, the average travel distance has typically been under a mile, though Link saw an average of 1.16 miles in October. That suggests e-scooters are serving as a “first mile, last mile” transportation option, as the county hoped when the Board of Supervisors approved regulations for the devices in 2019.

“[Shared mobile devices] are easy to use and access and have a low cost of use, providing yet another transportation option to access entertainment, dining, shopping, and other destinations,” Makely said in a statement. “SMDs serve as a component in the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, with a framework for advancing active transportation and a vision and roadmap for safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets and trails in Fairfax County.”

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Vehicles lights shine by the airport’s entrance (via Dulles airport)

It’s been a turbulent couple of years for air travel.

For more than a year, face masks have been a required accessory for flyers due to COVID-19. That ended Monday (April 18) when a federal court ruled against the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public transportation.

The country’s major airlines all dropped their mask requirements even before the federal government confirmed it would not enforce the mandate or appeal the judge’s ruling — a decision that has inspired cheers, anger, and perhaps some relief for flight crews after months of hostile confrontations with passengers.

Even those comfortable with flying from a health perspective, however, might be taken aback when they see what tickets will cost them, as many airlines pass higher fuel costs on to customers.

While plummeting demand led to some bargains during the initial months of the pandemic, the average ticket price nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 in the greater D.C. area, and inflation hit 8.5% this month, reaching a level not seen since the 1980s.

Despite those challenges, though, a recent poll by AAA Travel indicates that many people remain eager to travel, with more than 50% of Virginia and D.C. respondents saying they plan to travel more this summer.

How do you feel about flying right now? Does the end of mask requirements make the idea of getting on a plane more or less appealing? Or are the ticket prices more of a sticking point?

Photo via Dulles International Airport/Instagram

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A design for the Springfield Community Business Center Community Parking Garage (via Fairfax County)

As more companies resume office work, Fairfax County commuters have started to revive habits that went dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes the return of sluglines, a form of carpooling unique to the D.C. area where drivers pick up passengers so they can utilize high-occupancy toll lanes and ease the daily costs of commuting.

A group in Springfield arranged its first sluglines since March 2020 today (Monday) with four drivers and two passengers, organizer Nicole Miller said in an email, noting that a recent survey got support from at least 20 passengers and five drivers.

Sluglines Springfield, the Facebook group that coordinates the effort, has over 1,200 members.

The group has pick-up sites at Springfield United Methodist Church, which takes users to the Foggy Bottom area, and the Frontier Garage at Springfield Town Center, which goes to L’Enfant Plaza and Navy Yard.

Miller has worked with county officials to get the word out, and for the COVID-19 era, the rebooted effort has signage to separate groups of commuters based on their vaccination status and masking preferences. The measures are intended to accommodate people’s varying comfort levels and cautiousness.

“The slug line community have been great partners with the County and FCDOT as we work to complete the Springfield Community Business Center Garage at Old Keene Mill Rd. and Springfield Boulevard,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a March 31 email newsletter.

Previously expected to begin work in March 2020, the county didn’t break ground on the garage until October due to “additional requirements to modify construction documents that adhere to federal bidding and construction regulations,” according to the project page.

Located at 7039 Old Keene Mill Road, the new garage is expected to be completed in the spring of 2023, providing 1,000 parking spaces on six stories, seven bus bays, and two dedicated loading zones for commuter slug lines.

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The reconstruction of the intersection of Elden and Monroe streets is nearly complete (via Town of Herndon)

Major updates to the intersection of Elden Street and Monroe Street have neared substantial completion.

At a Herndon Town Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Town Manager Bill Ashton said the project is mostly complete. Signals have been installed and are expected to be fully functional in the coming days.

The project, which started late last year, reconstructs the intersection and includes a new traffic signal, brick crosswalks with ADA-compliant curb ramps, brick sidewalks, and an updated curb return in the southeast quadrant of the intersection.

Concrete-encased conduits for Cox, Verizon, and Dominion Power are also planned on the site.

“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks we’re able to complete that project in earnest,” Ashton said.

The project has changed traffic flows for several months in the area, particularly in front of Anita’s. Once the traffic signal goes live, much of the “ugly hardware” in the area will be removed, according to Ashton.

Ashburn Construction Corporation beat out one other bidder last spring to win the $1.1 million contract for the project.

The project is expected to officially close out by the summer.

Streetscape improvements to Elden Street — running in front of Aslin Beer Co. — are also nearly complete, Ashton said.

A sanitary sewer installation has also been added in front of Aslin in order to support Comstock’s anticipated redevelopment of downtown Herndon.

Comstock plans to ensure the infrastructure was installed properly. The company anticipates breaking ground this spring on the mixed-use project.

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin discusses the I-495 Express Lanes extension (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin and many Northern Virginia officials disagree over whether a repeal in the 2.5% grocery sales tax will adversely affect transit or not.

The governor has made eliminating the tax a priority, but proponents and opponents are painting vastly different portraits of how a repeal could affect transportation funding.

“We are at a time where we can eliminate the grocery tax and increase funding for infrastructure,” Youngkin said, adding that “there’s plenty of money in the system” and Virginia has “transportation dollars at the ready.”

At a groundbreaking ceremony in Tysons today (Monday) for the I-495 Express Lanes extension, the Republican governor described the multiyear project as the kind of private-public partnership that can help save taxpayers’ money.

Like its other express lane projects in the area, the Virginia Department of Transportation partnered with the private toll lanes operator Transurban on 495 NEXT. The company will design, build, and operate the new lanes.

The grocery sales tax supports school districts, transportation and local governments, but the Virginia General Assembly adjourned its 60-day regular session over the weekend without making a decision on conflicting budget bills.

A bill by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties in the 33rd District, calls for continuing educational funding from the state if the bill became law. A proposal from Del. Joseph McNamara (R-Roanoke) would eliminate grocery taxes but dedicate a certain amount of sales and use tax revenue to localities for schools.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay told FFXnow today that he disagrees with the governor.

The board sent a letter on Feb. 22 to the county’s General Assembly delegation expressing concern at the idea of eliminating grocery taxes without finding other revenue to fund transportation needs.

According to the letter, the sales tax brings $135 million annually to the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Fund, as well as an additional $60 million to $70 million to Fairfax County each year. The transportation fund goes toward highway maintenance and operations, such as repaving, snow removal and mowing, construction programs, and public transportation.

“While the recently passed federal infrastructure package, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), is expected to bring significant resources to the Commonwealth, that legislation only reauthorizes federal transportation programs through (fiscal year) 2026,” the letter said, noting concerns over one-time funds.

McKay contrasted one-time federal funds with annual, predictable contributions to transportation through the sales tax.

“We can’t leave one penny on the table,” McKay told attendees at the 495 NEXT groundbreaking. “Nowhere do I go in Northern Virginia do people, ‘We can afford to lose a single dollar for transportation.’ They say we need every single dollar possible and available going into improving the lives of people in Northern Virginia.”

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