The Town of Chevy Chase is hoping to take downtown Bethesda traffic-avoiding measures into its own hands with a Town-funded shuttle service, but a requirement that those shuttles be Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant has complicated matters.
The original plan was for the Town to come up with a system of about 10 stops, including stops at the Lawton Community Center, other corners in the Town, in front of the Barnes & Noble on Bethesda Row and near the Bethesda Metro station, for Rockville-based transportation service RMA to service for a four-hour period.
The exact route, time of day the shuttle would run and other details still must be worked out, either before or at a Public Hearing the Town hopes to hold in June.
But in last night’s Council discussion of the project, Town manager Todd Hoffman advised members of a bigger hurdle.
In order to be ADA compliant, the Town must either lease shuttles that can accomodate those in wheelchairs — shuttles that might be bigger than necessary — or effectively purchase the shuttles for their own use at a cost of approximately $300,000 each.
RMA, the same company that provides shuttle service for the Bethesda Urban Partnership’s Bethesda Circulator and for a Friendship Heights shuttle, offered the Town a two-month trial period with the ADA-compliant shuttles. But Hoffman said the Town would then have to enter into a five-year commitment with the vendor to continue the service.
The Council and Hoffman had earlier suggested a four- to six-month pilot program in which the Town could gauge interest. The idea came from Chevy Chase At Home’s Naomi Kaminsky, who originally thought the shuttle would be vital for Town seniors who hoped to get from the area to shopping and the Metro in downtown Bethesda.
Kaminsky said on Wednesday that since proposing the shuttle, Town residents from different age groups and with different needs expressed interest in it. Some would like to use the shuttle to commute to and from the Town in rush hour. Some would like it for evening hours to avoid the parking crush at Bethesda Row.
Whatever the case, Kaminsky said it’s clear many in the Town are tired of dealing with downtown Bethesda traffic.
Al Lang, a councilmember who worked with the Town’s Public Service Committee on the proposal, suggested a route that includes a stop near the CVS and Safeway at Arlington Road and Bradley Boulevard.
Hoffman said the four-hour option from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. would cost $76.50 an hour yearly. Hoffman will research other potential shuttle vendors and options before the Public Hearing. Next month, the Council hopes to finalize two or three routes to present to the public.