Will DC put the brakes on Circulator buses?

A DC Circulator bus. (WTOP/Brian Drew)

For nearly 20 years, the big red buses of the D.C. Circulator have been mainstays around the city’s downtown and National Mall. But 20 months from now, they might not be running at all.

Under the budget proposal from Mayor Muriel Bowser, Circulator buses would be phased out by early next year. The mayor said rising costs for something that people aren’t using, and is already duplicated by Metro, is too hard to justify when she has a budget to balance.

“How many people have seen a bus, a D.C. Circulator, with one or two people on it?” asked the mayor during a visit to Anacostia. She didn’t get much pushback. “It is not rebounding. The ridership doesn’t justify the cost.”

She argued Metro would provide the city “better bus service more efficiently.”

After her remarks, a visit to the Congress Heights Metro station, which has Circulator service to Union Station and back, seemed to support her arguments. The only riders on the Circulator buses at Congress Heights were the drivers, though more riders got on board buses as they drove through Anacostia.

And the Anacostia station is where Sam Bowman of Southeast hops on the Circulator every day so he can go to work near Union Station. He’s hopeful the D.C. Council will restore the funding for the Circulator.

“It beats Metro,” Bowman said. “Too much nonsense on the Metro, less nonsense on the Circulator.”

He said he’s skeptical the city will scrap it.

Jaime Warren of Northeast is also hoping the buses will keep running. She rides the Circulator to and from her Eastern Market home, and hops on buses that run near the National Mall and Tidal Basin, along with routes that service Anacostia.

“The Circulator is cheaper,” said Warren, adding that when given the choice it’s her preference. Regular fares for the Circulator are $1, and cheaper or even free for some groups of riders. “It’s nice to have that option available. They’re convenient.”

Bowser admitted the Circulator has grown beyond its original mission, which was to service Downtown D.C. and the National Mall.

Warren said that’s another key aspect the public will miss.

“I definitely love having it. I think it’s a resource, especially the one that goes around the National Mall. That one’s handy as well,” Warren said. “I’m sad that she’s getting rid of it.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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