WTOP Exclusive: MTA keeps 2 ICC commuter bus routes off chopping block

COLUMBIA, Md. – A month after riders came out in large numbers to a series of meetings to protest eliminating three Intercounty Connector commuter buses, WTOP has learned two of the routes have been saved.

Route 202 from Gaithersburg to Fort Meade and Route 203 from Columbia to the National Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health will remain, but Route 205 from College Park to the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center in Gaithersburg will be cut on Aug. 1.

“We are truly grateful for the input we received from commuters, elected officials and transit advocates,” Robert Smith, administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, says in a statement.

“They took time out of their busy schedules to voice their interest in keeping key ICC Commuter Bus routes, and we heard them. The MTA will maintain the service on Routes 202 and 203 and work with Fort Meade, Walter Reed Medical Center, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and our riders to attract new passengers to the service.”

Another MTA official tells WTOP the administration felt the impact of the large turnout and heard loud and clear that people wanted the two buses to remain.

“It’s really nice when government is responsive. It’s delightful to know that you can put in your comment and have it be heard. Clearly that’s what happened here,” says Alfred Yergey of Columbia, who rides Route 202.

The MTA also will make changes to Route 202 and 203 to eliminate the midday service and replace it with enhanced afternoon service to help workers at the National Naval Medical Center, NIH and Fort Meade better meet their work schedules. Officials will add a 5:10 p.m. bus on Route 203 from Bethesda as part of the upgrade, according to an email obtained by WTOP from the agency to public officials and riders.

MTA officials also admit they can do a better job at marketing the routes and say they will redouble their efforts to get the word out to commuters. According to the MTA email, the agency will reach out to Fort Meade, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health and riders to “market the ICC Commuter Bus routes in an effort to attract new passengers to the service.”

“I am very pleased with the outcome, and the show of solidarity of the ridership to help MTA make an informed decision,” says Todd Myrick, who commutes on Route 202 to the National Institutes of Health each weekday. “I think this is a major win for all parties, and look forward to riding the bus for many years to come.”

As WTOP reported in June, riders were worried about how eliminating the buses would lengthen their commutes. Several of them told WTOP it would have added an hour or two each day because Metro and MARC are not as reliable and don’t offer the same direct routes as the ICC buses.

Montgomery County Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Coordinator Phil Alperson remained in close touch with MTA officials during the decision-making process and told WTOP he was optimistic that keeping bus routes would be considered.

“Traffic is already bad on 355 in Bethesda and along 270 getting to Gaithersburg. That’s why our county supports proposals to get people to use mass transit options,” Alperson said in June.

Rockville Pike/Md. 355 is one of the busiest roads in Montgomery County during the work week. The issue has been exacerbated with the BRAC move of thousands of employees to the new Walter Reed at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

MTA officials say Route 205 will be discontinued because there wasn’t enough demand to justify the continuation of the service. The average trip only had two riders and few people turned out to a public hearing in College Park on the proposal last month.

A one-way ticket on Route 202 and Route 203 costs $5.00, although MTA offers monthly passes for commuters at a discounted rate.

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