The Transportation Commission is scheduled to vote on Wednesday, Oct. 18, to endorse a grant application to the Department of Rail and Public Transportation for up to $544,000.
A memo from Transportation and Environmental Service Deputy Director Hillary Orr said the hope is for funding to make improvements ahead of the new transit center, which isn’t scheduled to open until 2028.
“The City requests authority to apply for the new category of Passenger Amenities to provide shelters, benches, and real-time signage at the planned transit center in the West End development until a permanent structure is built,” Orr wrote. “Currently, this is a high ridership location and key transfer point with more than 500 boardings per day.”
Orr said the city was awarded $13 million in funding for the new transit center, but that construction funding won’t be available until FY26. While the full transit center won’t open until at least 2028, Orr noted that bus operations could begin using the area as a transfer point sometime in 2024.
“This funding would allow for proper amenities at a major transfer facility serving multiple local bus routes and two future bus rapid transit corridors until a permanent structure is constructed,” Orr wrote.
The temporary improvements would include 12 bus shelters and real-time signage. Once the transit hub is completed, the city said the temporary bus shelters can be relocated.
The total project cost is estimated at $800,000, with the City matching funding up to $256,000 if the grant is approved.
Alexandria’s DASH bus network ridership is growing faster than bus networks in Arlington and Fairfax, though not as quickly as local rail ridership.
A report to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission showed that DASH had a 17% increase in ridership from August 2022 to August 2023.
The total ridership in August 2023 was 1.3 million, nearly double the ART bus ridership and slightly more than half that of the Fairfax Connector. ART bus ridership grew 11% over the last year, while the Fairfax Connector’s ridership grew 15%.
Still, that doesn’t hold a candle to regional ridership of the Metro, which had a 36% ridership growth in the last year to a total of 7.7 million riders on the Virginia lines this past August.
It’s been a banner year in ridership for Alexandria’s DASH bus network. The bus network celebrated record high ridership earlier this year, fueled by a mix of realigning the system to prioritize more frequent service in higher-density corridors and going fully fare-free — though whether that change is permanent is unclear, given the long-term challenge offsetting the lost income presents.
Alexandria parents are up in arms over a staffing crisis within Alexandria City Public Schools.
Kelly Organek says that her ninth-grade son at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus hasn’t had a geometry teacher since school started in August and that he only recently got a new biology teacher.
“We are in a staffing crisis that is not okay for our children,” Organek testified to the School Board last Thursday night (Oct 5). “Since August 21, my son has had to teach himself biology and geometry. We have no way to know if he’s learning the material.”
ACPS staff also provided an update on staffing woes. The school system currently has 55 central office vacancies, as well as more than 100 licensed and non-licensed school-based positions. Just how many teachers are needed is not clear, and ALXnow is awaiting a more comprehensive breakdown of ACPS staffing needs.
“We’re at a point now where people are just looking for bodies to put in classrooms and that makes me so sad,” said Board Member Meagan Alderton. “I think the people on the ground, the HR (human resources) folks, have got to do the work.”
The ACPS employment page lists dozens of vacant positions, including high school science, math and history teacher jobs.
“We do know that the last couple of years have been very challenging for all of our staff,” Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said.
Margaret Browne, the ACPS director of recruitment and retention, said she is working on streamlining the onboarding process so that applicants can start work faster. She also said that ACPS advertised positions on radio stations, television, newspapers and online media, and that she and her staff conducted 13 job fairs in-house and traveled to 40 career fairs around the country last school year, including to Puerto Rico.
“I anticipated that we were going to do a large number of events last year and I’m ready to set a new record (for job fairs),” Browne said. “We’ll go down the Eastern Seaboard. This time we are going west and we’ll also do Puerto Rico again.”
The school system is also short 15 bus drivers and is offering an additional 5% raise for drivers over the course of the next three years.
Browne said that ACPS will also focus on marketing to people switching careers within associations and military organizations.
David Paladin Fernandez has been an ACPS 6th and 8th grade general education teacher for eight years. He said that his salary has been frozen half that time, and that due to an impasse over collective bargaining that the school system is running short on special education teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, therapists, audiologists and more positions.
He also brought a red velvet cake to the School Board meeting.
“Our district is facing a staffing crisis like we’ve never seen, and our management would rather spin stories than face the reality that their recruiting and retention efforts are simply not enough,” Fernandez said. “School Board members, tonight you have heard and will hear from a number of Alexandria citizens who have been personally impacted by the decisions ACPS management has made under your watch. These citizens come to you asking, nay demanding that you start holding management accountable because the things that they are saying to the public do not match the actions we see. It’s as ridiculous as offering cake at a School Board meeting.”
Rene Pascal, the acting head of human resources for ACPS, said that teachers should feel incentivized to work for ACPS by paying smaller premiums on their health plans (see graph in above gallery).
Alexandria City High School parent Sarah Schultz said that ACPS is not being transparent on staffing woes.
“We’re asking our children to receive instruction without teachers,” ACPS parent Sarah Schultz told the Board. “We feel strongly that ACPS should not take the stance that online classes are a reasonable substitute for in-person instruction, especially for required courses and question the equity of moving groups of students to online while the rest of the students receive in-person instruction.”
Two ACPS recruitment videos made earlier this year are below.
Arlington calls for aid, and Alexandria will answer.
Alexandria’s City Council is scheduled to vote at a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, to support neighboring Arlington’s funding application for an expanded Shirlington Transit Center.
Arlington County is applying for funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to expand the transit center in Shirlington, a major hub for bus traffic.
“Arlington County has requested $11.6 million to fund the Shirlington Bus Station Expansion,” Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Adriana Castaneda wrote in a memo. “This station is the principal transfer point for Arlington Transit (ART) bus service, Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrobus service, and bus service (Routes 36A and 36B) in South Arlington.”
While the project is outside of Alexandria, Castaneda said Alexandria would benefit from the project as some of those added bus bays would serve the West End Transitway, which will stop at the Shirlington Bus Station.
“This capital project focuses on adding bus bays at the Shirlington Bus Station to meet future demand, including the space needed for future West End Transitway buses and any service improvements from Alexandria’s Transit Vision Plan, as well as expansion plans of Arlington Transit and WMATA,” Castaneda wrote.
The West End Transitway is a project that will connect transit facilities along the West End, from the Van Dorn Metro station up to Shirlington, passing through the redeveloped Landmark Mall site. The project is in the design phase, with construction scheduled for 2025-2026, opening sometime in late 2026.
Image via Google Maps
Four Alexandria teenagers were robbed by six masked suspects on Monday (July 31) at a bus stop in the West End, according to police.
The juvenile victims, all 16 years of age, were not injured in the incident. At around 9:15 p.m., the victims were waiting at a bus stop near the intersection of Duke Street and N. Donelson Street when the suspects pulled up in a black Toyota Corolla.
The victims told police that four men and two women wearing ski masks got out of the car and then stole money and personal items. No one was injured and no weapons were used by the suspects, according to police.
A father of one of the victims reported the incident on NextDoor.
Anyone with information on this incident can call the Alexandria Police Department non-emergency number at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.
Image via Google Maps
Alexandria’s DASH network has set a record high with 4.5 million boardings in a single year, according to the transportation company.
DASH said in a release that the record high boardings exceeded the previous ridership high of 4.3 million in 2015. DASH credited the success to a mix of taking the network fare-free and realigning the system to prioritize frequent service in higher-density corridors.
“To celebrate this milestone and thank our loyal customers, DASH will host a rider celebration event on the morning of Friday, August 18 at the King Street-Old Town Metrorail Station,” the release said. “The event will begin at 8:30 AM and will feature remarks from DASH and City officials, music, refreshments, and DASH giveaways.”
The turnaround is particularly startling compared to the dip to only 1.5 million riders in FY 2021 when the pandemic battered regional public transit ridership.
According to the release:
Since the launch of the fare-free New DASH Network in September 2021, DASH has seen unprecedented ridership growth that helped it become the first transit agency in the region to return to pre-pandemic ridership levels. In the last year, DASH ridership has continued its meteoric rise with the 451,000 passenger boardings recorded in April 2023 representing the highest ridership total for a single month in agency history. Today, DASH carries more than 15,000 boardings on a typical weekday and 7,000 to 10,000 boardings on Saturdays and Sundays. The 4.5 million total boardings in fiscal year 2023 eclipsed the previous record of 4.3 million in fiscal year 2015.
Still, paying for the network to stay fare-free has proven a challenge. DASH had been collecting around $4 million in fares before the fare-free program went into effect. City staff estimated the DASH subsidy will rise from the current $23.6 million to $45 million annually — barring additional grant funding. The DASH network is also working through the expensive process of converting its fleet to electric.
Photo via DASHbus/Facebook
The City of Alexandria and the Alexandria Transit Company (DASH) have been awarded $24 million from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in grants to expand its electric bus fleet and continue high-frequency bus service.
“The grant will be used to purchase 13 battery-electric buses and to install charging infrastructure at the City’s bus maintenance and storage facility,” the city said in a release. “The grant will also provide funding to upgrade the DASH facility with additional electrical capacity and to cover the cost of additional training and workforce development programs related to fleet electrification.”
DASH also received a $14 million grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s I-395 Commuter Choice Program.
“The funds will be used to maintain high frequency service levels on DASH Lines 35 and 36A/B through Fiscal Year 2025,” the release said. “DASH was also awarded funding to purchase two 60-foot articulated electric buses to increase capacity on Line 35, the busiest route in the entire DASH system.”
Converting Alexandria’s DASH bus system to an electric fleet is a long and often costly process. Earlier this year, DASH General Manager Josh Baker said the city is still buying diesel buses because the funding wasn’t in place to buy electric buses.
“I think we can get to a place where electrification is part of good repair, but at the moment, that cost differential is not funded,” Baker said at the Transportation Commission.
Even $38 million burns pretty quickly with the considerable cost of electric buses. DASH officials said each electric bus costs $1.2 million while diesel buses cost $600,000, not to mention some of the infrastructure cost — though early indications are that electric buses may be less expensive to operate and maintain than diesel buses.
Still, Baker said the grant funding will help boost Alexandria along the path to getting more electric buses on the streets. The city’s goal is to have the entire DASH fixed-route fleet all-electric by 2037, which will require all new bus purchases starting in 2027 to have zero tailpipe emissions.
“The City is committed to reducing its environmental impact and improving air quality,” Baker said in the release. “The purchase of zero-emission buses is a major step forward in achieving these goals. The new buses will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality for all residents of Alexandria.”
Rep. Don Beyer put out a statement applauding the federal investment.
“The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is making our air cleaner, our region more connected, and our economy stronger,” Beyer said in a release. “These smart investments will help reduce emissions and create new jobs in Northern Virginia, throughout the region, and across the country. When we put our constituents and communities first, we can grow the middle class and rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. This is the way.”
Photo via DASHbus/Facebook
Electrification may be the future for Alexandria’s DASH bus network, but officials say diesel buses are still the present.
In a meeting with Alexandria’s Transportation Commission, DASH General Manager Josh Baker said maintaining good repair comes ahead of all other goals and cited Metro as a warning of what happens when transportation systems work the other way around.
“We’ve seen what happens on Metro when the Metro was built and not maintained,” Baker said. “For us, the top priority is good repair, followed by electrification then expansion.”
Baker said eventually the goal is to make electrification a part of DASH’s normal operations, but the funding isn’t there yet.
“I think we can get to a place where electrification is part of good repair, but at the moment, that cost differential is not funded,” Baker said.
City leadership has previously discussed the challenge of both the ambitious electric conversion of the fleet and the funding sapped away when DASH went fully fare-free. Deputy Director of Transportation Hillary Orr previously told the Transportation Commission that the city has ten buses that are reaching the end of their lifespan and, despite pledging to go electric by 2037, it was likely the replacement buses would still be gas-powered rather than electric.
“[DASH] ordered 10 diesel buses,” Baker said. “Is that a bad move? I don’t think it’s a bad move at all, we have to maintain the fleet. We want to continue to be electric, but if we don’t have the money to do it we’re not going to stop buying buses and get to the point where our service decays.”
Baker said around 14% of DASH’s buses are curently electric.
At the meeting, DASH officials said an electric bus costs $1.2 million while a diesel bus costs $600,000. Officials said the life cycle of an electric bus is less than a diesel bus, but they don’t know yet what that looks like at mid-life and end-of-life for electric buses.
In 2021, DASH went fully fare-free, meaning anyone could ride a DASH bus at any time without paying for a ticket. At the same time, the bus network has been undergoing a full-electric conversion, gradually swapping out all of the diesel buses for electric buses.
But in addition to hurdles like a lack of charging infrastructure, DASH faces the budgetary challenge of how to pay for the expensive new electric buses.
Deputy Director of Transportation Hillary Orr spoke to the Transportation Commission last week about the budget challenges facing DASH.
The city has applied for a federal grant to help convert 10 of the city’s aging buses to electric, but Orr said if the city doesn’t get that grant, the city will have to buy diesel buses rather than electric.
“If not matched, we would buy clean diesel buses because we need to replace these buses,” Orr said.
One Commissioner suggested the city could pay more for electric buses, but Orr said even using what money was set aside for DASH improvements to buy electric buses instead of diesel buses would leave the city with several buses past their expected replacement date.
“We could pay more, but then we’d have a bunch of buses that are expired because we don’t have enough with $4.8 million to replace all the clean diesels we need to replace,” Orr said. “We have 10 buses expiring… We’re doing our best to cobble together what we can and then we’ll see what we get. Whatever’s remaining, we’ll buy what we can.”
Even if Alexandria does buy more diesel buses, Orr said the city will still be on track for its goal to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2037.
“If we bought clean diesel buses, we would still be on track with our goal for 2037 having a full fleet,” Orr said. “It’s not until fiscal year 2025 that we need to start buying all-electric.”
Some on the Transportation Commission said they still hope DASH can accelerate the bus fleet electrification. According to Commissioner Jim Maslank:
I’d like to make a motion that we consider in our letter to the council that they consider additional funds as a contingency if we don’t get the money. It’s an opportunity: the whole world is going electric. 2037 is a long way away. It would be a budgetary tradeoff, but I think this committee — I personally feel we should accelerate that change, but it is going to cost the city more money. There will be tradeoffs, but that’s how I feel.
“[There’s a] 18% increase in DASH funding from [fiscal year] 2023 to meet increased operating costs and decreased TRIP grant funding,” Orr said. “We get less and less each year. The TRIP grant was a grant we received when DASH went fare-free, with a little over $7 million over a four-year period. In the fourth year, DASH has to commit to being fare-free without any commitment from the state.”
“It’s like baby steps,” a Transportation Commission member said.
“Baby steps down to zero,” Orr replied less enthusiastically.
The FY 2024 budget is scheduled for adoption on May 3.
Photo via DASHbus/Facebook
Alexandria is hoping a federal grant could help push Alexandria’s DASH bus network a little closer to full electrification.
A memo from Deputy Director of Transportation Hillary Orr to the Transportation Commission said the city is hoping federal funding can help cover a sizable budget gap looming for electric bus replacement plans.
The DASH bus network has been crawling toward electrification for years despite challenges, from difficulties with hilly terrain to a lack of charging stations. The city’s goal is a fully electric fleet by 2037.
Currently, DASH has 14 electric buses in circulation and 87 “clean diesel” and hybrid buses. The bus network’s plans include replacing ten additional buses and five trolleys that have reached the end of their useful life — but replacing these buses and trolleys with electric alternatives is costly.
“To replace these assets with battery electric buses and trolleys will cost an estimated $19.3 million,” Orr wrote in the memo. “The City currently has budgeted $4,798,900 for the replacement of these buses, leaving a gap of $14.5 million.”
Beyond just the electric bus costs, Orr wrote there is an additional smaller budget gap for new clean diesel buses.
“Additionally, the City was previously awarded $4.4 million in Smart Scale funds for six clean diesel buses,” Orr wrote. “To upgrade these buses to battery electric would cost an additional $3.1 million.”
The following projects could be submitted within these applications.
- Trolley Replacement (up to $6.8 million): Retire and replace five (5) trolleys with electric trolleys.
- Bus Replacement (up to $12.5 million): Retire and replace ten (10) buses with electric buses.
- Smart Scale Expansion Buses (up to $7.5 million): Upgrade six (6) Smart Scale clean diesel buses to electric buses.
- Electric upgrades at DASH Facility (up to $9 million): Build new electrical service, including on-site equipment and infrastructure to support charging need of fleet wide conversion to battery electric buses.
- Workforce Development (up to $1.6 million): Required 5% of federal request.
In total, Orr wrote that the city is seeking $38 million in grant funding.
“While it is unlikely the full grant request will be awarded, staff determined the best path forward is to propose all needs in a scalable manner by which the FTA can assess and award funds as available,” Orr wrote.
The grants are headed to the Transportation Commission for review at a meeting on Wednesday, March 15.
Photo via DASHbus/Facebook