With the reopening of the Dash Transit Center at the future WestEnd development years away, Alexandria is looking to ask Richmond to help pay for $800,000 in temporary bus bays, benches and real-time signage.
On Tuesday, City Council will consider authorizing a $544,000 grant application for a new project through the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP). If approved, the city would have to foot the remaining $256,000 to pay for 12 shelters at six bus bays, benches and six electronic real-time signs until construction of the permanent transit center is finished. City staff said Council could also tap into the GoAlex Fund, which is funded by developers.
Alexandria was awarded $13 million in SMART SCALE funding for the transit hub, but the money isn’t available until 2026 and construction is estimated to wrap in 2028.
“Currently, this is a high ridership location and key transfer point with more than 500 boardings per day,” City staff said in a memo. “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.”
Melissa McMahon, chair of the city’s Transportation Commission, wrote a letter stating that the commission endorsed the application.
“At its October 18 meeting, the Transportation Commission voted to endorse a grant application for funding of up $800,000 through the DRPT FY 2024 Mid-Cycle TRIP New Passenger Amenities category,” McMahon wrote. “The Transportation Commission supports staff’s proposal to request funding to provide passenger amenities at Landmark until the facility funded through SMART SCALE can be constructed, at which point the amenities can be relocated to other high need areas in the City.”
McMahon continued, “This project supports the Alexandria Mobility Plan strategy to improve the rider experience and will ensure that appropriate amenities are available for this major transfer facility at the opening of Duke Street and West End Transitways. It also provides the opportunity to potentially leverage the new developer funded Transportation Management Plan GoAlex Fund for these amenities.”
Alexandria was previously awarded a TRIP grant from its Zero and Reduced Fare category. The TRIP program launched in 2021 to improve “regional connectivity in urban areas with a population above 100,000 and reducing barriers to transit use by supporting low-income and zero-fare programming.”
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’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
Good Monday morning, Alexandria!
☔ Today’s weather: Passing showers. Overcast. Mild. High of 66 and low of 53.
☔ Tomorrow: Rain. Cloudy. Mild. High of 71 and low of 57. Sunrise at 6:01 am and sunset at 8:07 pm.
🚨 You need to know
After eight months, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reopened it’s yellow line on Sunday. The line has been out of service since September to allow work on the Potomac River tunnel and bridge.
“The work included replacing over 1,000 individual steel plates held together by more than 12,000 bolts in the tunnel and replacing 88 bearings on the bridge,” according to WMATA. “The project also upgraded the fire suppression system on the 3,000-foot bridge and removed and replaced miles of critical communications cables used by multiple regional partners.”
📈 Friday’s most read
The following are the most-read ALXnow articles for May 5, 2023.
- Giant Food on Duke Street adapts to shoplifting increase by locking one of its front doors (858 views)
- Notes: APD ‘determined’ to reduce crime near Braddock Road Metro after more shots fired (829 views)
- ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria (798 views)
- Just Listed in Alexandria | ALXnow (129 views)
🗞 Other local coverage
- Yellow Line Roars Back into Alexandria Sunday Morning, May 7, after an Eight-Month Closure
Zebra (Sunday @ 1:21 pm)
- Diapers Needed: Start a Drive in Alexandria To Help HomeAid National Capital Region
Zebra (Saturday @ 12:54 pm)
- New Old Town Location for Alexandria’s Zen Press — Same Hospitality, Delicious, Nutritious Food and Juice Options
Zebra (Saturday @ 9:07 am)
- Theogony Editor Staff at Alexandria City Public High School has Been Announced!
Zebra (Friday @ 7:59 pm)
- Sewer Overflow Affects Stream In Alexandria
Patch (Friday @ 3:49 pm)
- DASH Bus Lines To Serve New Potomac Yard Metro Station
Patch (Friday @ 3:22 pm)
- “Happy to Learn This Was a Drill” Says A Lady in Alexandria about the Dummy Hanging Off Woodrow Wilson Bridge on Monday, May 1
Zebra (Friday @ 1:49 pm)
- Lily’s Chocolate and Coffee to Open Soon
Alexandria Living (Friday @ 11:42 am)
- Free Concerts Start June 4 at Fort Hunt Park
Alexandria Living (Friday @ 10:55 am)
- Melanie Kay-Wyatt Named Permanent Alexandria Schools Superintendent
Patch (Friday @ 10:39 am)
- Charlene’s Kitchen: Alexandrians’ ‘Go To’ for Catering, Events
Alexandria Living (Friday @ 10:20 am)
- Old Town Alexandria Home Dating Back To 1830 Has Patio With Brick Wall
Patch (Friday @ 9:59 am)
- How Blackwall Hitch Is Leading Alexandria Waterfront’s Culinary Resurgence
Alexandria Living (Friday @ 9:45 am)
- Mount Vernon: Revolutionary War Weekend May 6, 7
Alexandria Living (Friday @ 9:29 am)
- Samy Seeks Home with a Friend
Alexandria Living (Friday @ 7:41 am)
- About Alexandria with Mark Eaton: Staggering forward
Alexandria Times (Friday @ 7:41 am)
- Your View: We needed a Metro bond referrendum
Alexandria Times (Friday @ 7:34 am)
- Your View: Decongest Duke Street sensibly
Alexandria Times (Friday @ 7:30 am)
- Our View: Not ‘Poetry in Motion’
Alexandria Times (Friday @ 7:27 am)
📅 Upcoming events
Here is what’s going on today in Alexandria, from our event calendar.
- No events today. Have one to promote? Submit it to the calendar.
Good Friday morning, Alexandria!
🌥 Today’s weather: Cloudy. Mild. High of 69 and low of 51.
🌥 Tomorrow: Cloudy. Mild. High of 72 and low of 52. Sunrise at 6:05 am and sunset at 8:04 pm.
🚨 You need to know
More gunfire was reported near the Braddock Road Metro station yesterday afternoon, prompting the Alexandria Police Department to tweet that it’s “determined” to solve recent crime issues.
“APD has taken action by installing cameras and increasing police presence in the area to ensure everyone’s safety,” APD tweeted. “No one has been hurt, but we’re determined to prevent any potential harm by keeping a police presence there until we resolve this violence.”
Thursday’s incident occurred in the same block as a number of recent shootings. The city is experiencing a crime surge, and police are fighting it by increasing patrols in high-crime areas, installing mobile camera units and hosting community events.
We care about your safety and appreciate the communities cooperation to help resolve this issue.
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) May 5, 2023
We had such a great time on Monday at Coffee with a Cop that we are planning three more this month! We hope to see you there!
May 9, 2023 – Monarch 800-930 540 N Henry St.
May 16, 2023 – Bradlee 800-930 3690 King St.
May 23, 2023 – Van Dorn 800-0930 5782 Dow Ave. pic.twitter.com/lN1MfBBuwi
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) May 2, 2023
📈 Thursday’s most read
The following are the most-read ALXnow articles for May 4, 2023.
- JUST IN: Police investigating shots fired incident near Braddock Road Metro station (1834 views)
- Fundraiser established for family of the ACHS student who died this week (1203 views)
- Notes: Alexandria driver killed in hit-and-run in D.C. | ALXnow (727 views)
- JUST IN: Melanie Kay-Wyatt announced as Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent (516 views)
🗞 Other local coverage
- Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt is the New Permanent Superintendent for Alexandria City Public Schools
Zebra (Thursday @ 10:25 pm)
- Interim Schools Superintendent Becomes Permanent in Alexandria
Alexandria Living (Thursday @ 7:48 pm)
- Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt announced as new ACPS Superintendent
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 7:45 pm)
- Good Food for a Good Cause: ALIVE! Hosting Alexandria Community Cookouts This Month
Zebra (Thursday @ 6:17 pm)
- Do it yourself: Four project ideas to bring new life to your home
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 6:09 pm)
- Alexandria City School Board – Public Hearing- Budget
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 5:31 pm)
- Board of Architectural Review – Public Hearing
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 5:29 pm)
- AT&T – Public Notice
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 5:28 pm)
- DASH To Re-Route Some Lines To Serve Potomac Yard Metro Station in Alexandria
Zebra (Thursday @ 5:28 pm)
- Alexandria City School Board-Public Hearing
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 5:27 pm)
- No Alexandria Primary Election Scheduled In 2023
Patch (Thursday @ 4:33 pm)
- ACHS student receives Narcan
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:52 pm)
- Pets: Dog walking dangers: Avoid injuries and accidents by following these steps
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:41 pm)
- Reunion results
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:33 pm)
- After school registration for 2023-2024
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:29 pm)
- Taste Of Del Ray Returns To One Location In 2023
Patch (Thursday @ 3:24 pm)
- Record breaking fundraiser
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:23 pm)
- Minor arrested for carjacking
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 3:19 pm)
- Bus lanes on Duke Street?
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 2:44 pm)
- Alexandria Celebrates Cinco de Mayo
Alexandria Living (Thursday @ 1:00 pm)
- Most Popular Brunch Spots In U.S. Include 5 NoVA Restaurants
Patch (Thursday @ 12:56 pm)
- Unanimous Vote: Alexandria City Council Approves FY 2024 Budget
Zebra (Thursday @ 11:59 am)
- Del Ray Central Apartment Building Sells for $52 Million
Zebra (Thursday @ 11:30 am)
- Crash conviction and sentence
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 11:28 am)
- Same Real Estate Tax Rate Approved In Alexandria City Budget
Patch (Thursday @ 10:23 am)
- ACHS student receives Narcan
Alexandria Times (Thursday @ 9:16 am)
- Jula’s on the Potomac Plans June Opening
Alexandria Living (Thursday @ 7:43 am)
📅 Upcoming events
Here is what’s going on today and this weekend in Alexandria, from our event calendar.
- 8:00 am Saturday: Riverside Gardens Neighborhood Yard Sale
- 10:00 am Saturday: Lost Buildings in Alexandria
- 11:00 am Saturday: Old Town Alexandria Art Show & Craft Spring Fair ~ Mother’s Day Celebration
- 👉 5:15 pm Saturday: Beethoven, Brews, and BBQ
- 👉 7:00 pm Saturday: 2023 Alexandria Scottish Rite Friends & Family Charity Event
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.
A proposed extension of the King Street Trolley has reappeared in a new DASH transit plan.
The bus network’s FY 2023-2028 Transit Development Plan includes a look behind the curtain at what’s ahead for the bus network, including a plan to take the King Street Trolley down to the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station.
It’s not the first time the idea has come up. The idea was first raised back in 2020 as a longer-term goal, with hopes of implementation by 2030. Now, the Transit Development Plan says the hope is to get that extension going by FY 2026.
According to the plan:
For FY 2026, DASH proposes to extend the King Street Trolley from the King Street Metro to the Eisenhower Metro. This route extension will require up to three additional Trolley vehicles, which will be 100% electric as part of the larger effort to transition the Trolley fleet to electric buses. DASH will also seek to expand morning service hours for the Trolley and to find ways to integrate it more fully with the Old Town Circulator service. These trolley changes and any further changes to Trolley service will require additional funding, further coordination with city leadership, and approval by City Council.
The plan also notes that the King Street Trolley remains the most used route in the system.
Despite its post-pandemic ridership decreases, the King Street Trolley remains the most productive route with more than 20 boardings per revenue hour on weekdays and Sundays and more than 30 boardings per revenue hour on Saturdays.
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