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DASH and city leaders celebrate launch of bus system overhaul

If you ever feel bad about getting on the bus in Alexandria and realizing too late you’re on the wrong one, don’t fret. Apparently some of the people who run the city’s bus system do the same thing.

The new DASH bus network launched on Sept. 5, but city leaders and transit administrators met last week to celebrate.

“The first time I rode the new network was the night of our DASH board meeting,” said David Kaplan, chair of the Alexandria Transit Company Board of Directors. “There are two routes that come down King Street to the Metro Station and I needed the 30. I boarded the first bus that came to Market Square which happened to be a 31.”

Kaplan said he rode the bus to the King Street Metro station and the ride was going smoothly until the bus took a left where his should have gone right and Kaplan realized his mistake.

“I very sheepishly went up to the driver and asked if I could get off so I could run back to King Street and get onto the correct bus,” Kaplan admitted.

Kaplan’s error was one example of the adjustment needed as city bus service DASH works to implement its biggest change since the system launched in 1982. Josh Baker, CEO of the Alexandria Transit Company said the goal of the project is to modernize the transit network. The new system enhances the frequency of service in high-density parts of the city. Some adjustments were made to the plan after local residents having their routes scrapped expressed concerns, and some parts of the city hoping for high-frequency service aren’t getting it.

Along with the change in transit structure, the new program made headlines for going fare free and the city is currently seeking more state funding to implement that change on a longer-term basis.

“This is a long time coming,” Wilson said. “I know this has been a long process of getting public input and getting consensus of the community to ultimately make DASH more successful for riders. When riders are surveyed on what they want, they want transit to go to more places they want to go to and that arrives and leaves more frequently. Today, we’re improving the accessibility of transit by doing exactly that… providing that service more frequently than we did before throughout the day.”

Wilson also said that one of the bizarre windfalls of the pandemic has been giving the city not only a chance to restructure the bus system, but watch patterns of usage as bus ridership steadily goes up as the city works toward recover.

“We’ve been conducting a massive, unplanned experiment about transportation behavior over the last year and a half,” Wilson said. “That data has been very constructive about who rides transit and when. Look right now at how different modes have recovered. Look at how people are getting back on buses and back on Metrorail. You see an object lesson in who rides transit and where.”

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