Tysons, VA

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) The Falls Church City Council is set to discuss two bus projects that would better connect the Little City to surrounding jurisdictions.

Planning Director Paul Stoddard is set to give presentations on the third phase of the Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit Project and the WMATA Bus Transportation Project.

Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVRC) is evaluating costs to run buses from the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons along Route 7 to the East Falls Church Metro station, before ending in Alexandria.

“Currently, the only corridor-long service is the 28A, which runs on 20-minute frequencies,” according to city documents. “Commonly 10- or 15-minute frequencies [are] considered the minimum for high-frequency transit.”

Falls Church staff are looking to get data on ridership estimates, turning movements, lane configurations and evaluate station locations to support planning for the rapid bus transit system.

The council is also set to provide feedback on WMATA’s bus project. The recently completed strategy and action plan are looking to change the D.C. area bus system for riders, providers and operators.

“Feedback is particularly needed on key elements that are applicable to the city and on coordination items to focus on during annual budget discussions, state of good operations service updates, and ad-hoc opportunities for transit service planning,” according to city documents.

The meeting is set to start at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall (300 Park Avenue).

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Updated at 3:30 p.m. —  Routes 630, 640 and 650 will also not operate a full Sunday service today, the county announced this afternoon.

Fairfax Connector is continuing to cut its bus service today (Thursday) due to worker strikes, impacting commuters in the Tysons area.

The strike today came after negotiations for a contract extension didn’t pan out, along with a strike at a Metro garage in Lorton. Strikes are taking place until 5 p.m. today in Herndon, Newington and Fairfax.

In an announcement yesterday (Wednesday), Fairfax County said that Fairfax Connector routes will operate on a Sunday service today.

This morning (Thursday), the county said that five routes that were set to operate on a Sunday schedule won’t run today, including routes 423 and 721 in the Tysons area, and that several routes — 505, 983, 981, RIBS 2 and RIBS 4 — will not operate full Sunday service today.

That leaves Fairfax Connector with about one-third of its bus routes still in service today.

More from the county’s transportation department:

The contract between Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1764, the union representing the bus drivers and mechanics, and Transdev, Fairfax County’s contracted bus operator, expired on Nov. 30, 2019.

As a result of the job action, Transdev does not expect all drivers represented by ATU Local 1764 to report for work on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, and bus service will be operated by a limited number of available personnel. The decision was made to operate a Sunday schedule instead of a weekday schedule because that is believed to be the maximum level of reliable bus service that can be provided under the current circumstances.

Fairfax County officials are urging commuters to find other forms of transportation today.

People can contact Fairfax Connector customer service at 703-339-7200 for updates on service impacts, sign up for text or email alerts and follow Fairfax Connector on Twitter and Facebook.

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strike against the contractor of Metrobus could affect service by the Fairfax Connector.

The union that represents Fairfax Connector drivers indicated that a strike is possible amid an ongoing labor dispute with Transdev, the operations contractor of the Fairfax Connector service.

The county has recently warned that ongoing negotiations for a new labor agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 could result in service delays. 

Here’s more from the county:

The Fairfax Connector operations contractor, Transdev, is currently negotiating a new labor agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1764, which represents Fairfax Connector drivers and mechanics. Even though Fairfax County is not a party to any labor negotiations between Transdev and labor unions, Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has encouraged negotiations in good faith with the goal of completing a new contract prior to the expiration of the current one on Nov. 30, 2019.  

FCDOT strives to provide effective communications and excellent customer service to our customers. We understand that you depend on us to take you where you need to go with reliable service. If the current negotiations are not successful and labor action occurs, FCDOT will communicate with passengers about service impacts and travel alternatives. 

The county offers updated about Fairfax Connector service online. Residents can also sign up for email service alerts through the county’s BusTracker.

This story was written by Fatimah Waseem 

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New Route 7 Rapid Bus System Plans — “A new conceptual engineering report lays out 18 specific bus rapid station locations from Tysons to Alexandria. It also details the spots where buses would have their own lanes in the middle of the road or on the outside of the road, and where buses would share lanes with car traffic.” [WTOP]

Update on Park Police Shooting of Tysons Man — “The two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar in 2017 will not be charged with any crimes in connection with the incident, federal prosecutors said Thursday. The decision came just days before the second anniversary of the slaying.” [Washington Post]

Orange Line Work Next Year — “Orange Line trains could run on a single-track at West Falls Church, and Orange and Silver Line trains could pass through East Falls Church without stopping. The closures would run as long as May 23 (Memorial Day weekend) through about Aug. 28 (before Labor Day weekend).” [WTOP]

Residents Displaced From Falls Church Fire — On Saturday, firefighters battled a “fire in a garden-style apartment building in the 7300 block of Lee Highway in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County. Multiple people have been rescued.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue/Twitter]

Questions About American Legion Bridge’s Reconstruction? — The Washington Business Journal has answers about how much the bridge work will cost, who is paying for it and more. [Washington Business Journal]

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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is hiring bus drivers again.

FCPS held two hiring events in July and August to bring onboard new bus drivers. Back in July, FCPS was short-staffed by roughly 100 drivers — primarily in the McLean area, FCPS Director of Transportation Francine Furby said.

Now, FCPS has 80 bus driver openings to fill, according to a press release.

“FCPS is seeking full-time bus drivers to join its force of 1,120 drivers who drive more than 16,000,000 miles each year,” according to FCPS.

The pay is $19.20 per hour and drivers would need to work at least 30 hours per week.

The bus driver fair will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Gerry Hyland Government Center (8350 Richmond Hwy) in Alexandria.

“In order to qualify to work as a bus driver with FCPS, applicants must be at least 21 years old; have a good driving record; pass a physical exam, drug screening, and background check; complete a five-week training program, take the commercial driver’s license road test, and obtain a commercial driver’s license,” according to FCPS.

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Fairfax County is looking to scrutinize Fairfax Connector routes for riders around the Tysons area starting next year.

The county plans to start looking at five-year route optimization next year for riders in the Vienna and Merrifield areas next year, FCDOT officials told the Board of Supervisors during the Transportation Committee meeting today (Tuesday).

Then, the county would turn to Tysons, McLean and Falls Church areas in 2021.

Currently, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is seeking the public’s input on proposed service changes to routes in Herndon and Reston.

FCDOT is looking at Fairfax Connector routes because overall ridership is below targetted levels, according to the presentation. Additionally, shifting demographics and job opportunities have changed travel patterns.

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The Vienna Town Council is looking to add new transportation options to make getting around town easier.

Michael Gallagher, the director of public works, presented information about microtransit service and potential grants to the Vienna Town Council last night (Monday).

Microtransit falls in the middle of private, individual transportation like taxis and mass public transit.

“It’s like Uber with shuttle buses,” Gallagher said, adding that it’s designed to be low-cost or fare-free.

People within a certain geographic area would be able to request rides through an app. Microtransit routes and schedules are flexible to try to match the demand for trips, he said.

“There’s really no data yet because it’s fairly new,” he said, noting that D.C. is one of the areas around the country exploring microtransit service.

Microtransit would cost between $200,000-$400,000 per year for the third party running the system, Gallagher estimated.

As for funding, Gallagher told the Town Council the upcoming application deadlines for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) and Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT).

Councilmembers were supportive of pursuing the new option.

“If we can get a grant for a pilot program, I think that would be a great option for the town,” Councilmember Pasha Majdi said. “I think this should be considered without making major budget commitments.”

Councilmember Linda Colbert supported the idea for a trial period, adding that she is interested in seeing how many people would use microtransit compared to Uber or another ridesharing service.

Most of the debate was about how quickly the town staff would need to act in order to meet different grant deadlines.

Councilmember Douglas Noble argued the town should not seek funding immediately, saying that microtransit needs to be considered in the context of other transportation options. The council is set to hear about the multi-modal study from Kimley-Horn on Nov. 6.

Majdi noted that there may not be a lot of information about microtransit’s feasibility since it is a new technology.

Gallagher said that he is meeting with NVTC in about two weeks to discuss potential grants. The Town Council said that it will continue the discussion of microtransit service this year.

“Do you want to get a microtransit service that gives everyone a ride everywhere wherever they want to go 24/7 or do you want a shuttle that takes people back and forth to the Metro?” Majdi said. “Very, very different levels of service.”

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More bus routes may come to Tysons in the future.

Fairfax County is currently conducting a study on bus rapid transit options along Route 7 in Tysons.

Sean Schweitzer and Nanditha Paradkar from the Fairfax County Department of Transportation gave the Board of Supervisors an update on the proposal at the Transportation Committee meeting today (Tuesday).

FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny said that this project is a subset of a larger Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s Envision Route 7 project. Fairfax County took over the part in Tysons because it overlaps with other projects in the area, Biesiadny said.

Schweitzer said that a study about the bus alternatives was initiated last October. Now, FCDOT has the proposed bus system divided into three segments:

  • segment 1: Spring Hill Metro station to International Drive
  • segment 2: International Drive to I-495
  • segment 3: I-495 to I-66

So far, FCDOT is considering several alternatives for each of those segments. Fairfax County has the funding to complete the study, Biesiadny said.

Schweitzer said that the alternatives will be put through simulations this fall before seeking feedback from civic associations.

Image via Fairfax County

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Mothers Out Front Fairfax, the local climate change branch of a national movement, is advocating for electric school buses in Fairfax County.

More than 40 people gathered at a room in the Patrick Henry Library (101 E. Maple Avenue) in the Town of Vienna for the “Clean Buses for Kids” campaign launch last evening (Tuesday).

Bobby Monacella, the co-leader of Mothers Out Front Fairfax and the mother of two kids attending the county’s public schools, told the attendees that electric buses seem like a “no brainer.”

“They are safer. They’re healthier. They are less expensive to expensive to operate. The maintenance is much less. The cost of electricity versus diesel is much less,” Monacella said.

She added that the push for electric school buses needs to start now because of the life cycle of diesel school buses.

“It made us realize we simply can’t buy one more diesel school bus because it lasts us 15 years and with the cost of fuel emissions, our kids’ future can’t wait for that,” she said.

Since electric school buses don’t have an engine, muffler or alternator that requires tune-ups, the lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses total $170,000, according to a Mothers Out Front Fairfax press release.

Some places around the country have already made the switch from diesel to electric school fleets, including schools in California and New York.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) runs one of the largest school bus fleets in the U.S. with more than 1,600 buses.

Karl Frisch, the Democratic candidate for the Providence District seat on the FCPS School Board, said that a switch to electric buses would attract companies, further diversifying businesses in the county.

Pat Hynes, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the school board, told Tysons Reporter that the cost of switching to electric buses is the main challenge facing the school board.

“I think it really comes down to the upfront cost not only for the buses, which are three times more expensive than the diesel buses, there’s also an investment that has to made in the infrastructure,” Hynes said, adding that the buses would need chargers.

Hynes said that “it’s a win, win, win” if the local government partners with the state government and also the local utility company to help defray the upfront costs.

Overall, Hynes said she thinks the school board will support the campaign as long as the electric buses aren’t more expensive than diesel-fueled ones in the long term.

“Every statement that the board has made in the last couple years in favor of taking some leadership on climate change has been supported almost unanimously,” Hynes said.

The school board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also jointly formed the Joint Environmental Task Force to lead on climate action, Hynes said, adding that the task force will hold its inaugural meeting on Sept. 3 at the Mason District Government Center (6507 Columbia Pike).

“That is where policy will begin for both boards — the school board and the county board,” she said.

Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) said that the conversation about electric buses should be broadened beyond talking about the environment.

“This isn’t about Julie taking care of her daughter or me taking care of my kids… It’s about Mother Earth suffering,” Keam said. “That’s why I think this conversation should start and end with the bigger picture of climate change and where we are with this crisis.”

At the end of the campaign launch, the group urged attendees to sign a petition urging the school board to buy a test bus in 2020 and request a small number of electric buses by 2021.

The group aims to replace FCPS buses with electric ones by 2024.

“When moms get involved, things happen,” Keam said to cheers.

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Ahead of the new school year starting next week, Fairfax County Public Schools debuted a new partnership with an app that will help parents track when the school bus will arrive.

After a pilot program, the FCPS Office of Transportation Services announced FCPS will offer the “Here Comes the Bus” app for the 2019-2020 school year yesterday (Monday).

“[The app] uses HTTPS like a bank or online store, making all communications between a device and the site are encrypted and secure,” according to FCPS, adding that the app uses GPS to track the locations of the buses.

Started in 2001 by a pair of graduates, the app has nearly 1.5 million registered users and is used in school districts across the country, spanning Orlando to San Antonio.

Since the app tracks the bus routes instead of individuals students, FCPS wants people to remember that bus substitutions can affect the accuracy of the app and that app shouldn’t replace communication with students about their whereabouts.

The app is free for parents and guardians and provides real-time bus locations through text or email alerts, according to FCPS. The app will be available to use starting next Monday (Aug. 26) for FCPS families.

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