Tysons Corner, VA

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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Some Northern Virginia commuter buses are experiencing delays trying to get to Tysons — or not going there at all.

OmniRide started operating fewer buses on Thursday (Aug. 1) after the union that represents its bus operators rejected to extend the contract, which expired last week, Inside NoVa reported.

While the bus system primarily serves the Prince William County and Manassas areas, some of its routes take riders to and from Tysons.

Five days later, the work stoppage is still impacting bus schedules today (Monday).

More from OmniRide’s modified plan for today:

Our service plan continues to evolve, as a result of the dynamic situation.  We will continue to notify passengers of any further changes to service levels as soon as possible.

Ultimately, service levels depend on the number of operators who come to work, so please stay tuned for updates as we learn more, and keep in mind that the service frequencies listed below are approximate and dependent on anticipated operator attendance.

OmniRide will not have Express bus service for Mark Center and Tysons-Woodbridge today. Several other Express buses have also been changed. Fares are free today for OmniRide Express buses that are not running on a regular schedule today.

For people trying to get to Tysons, OmniRide is encouraging people to hop on a Metro Express bus or share a ride.

Let us know if the recent OmniRide bus service changes have impacted you.

Photo via Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission/Facebook

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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) once again faces a transportation dilemma as it looks ahead to the upcoming school year.

The county recently made an all-call for new bus drivers. The district is short-staffed by roughly 100 drivers — primarily in the McLean area, FCPS Director of Transportation Francine Furby said.

There are two hiring events coming up on Tuesday, July 31, at Cedar Lane School (101 Cedar Lane) in Vienna and the Thursday, Aug. 8, at Edison High School (5801 Franconia Road) in Alexandria. Both events will run from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

This isn’t the first time FCPS faced a bus driver shortage. According to WAMU, there was another county shorage in August of 2017, when drivers were paid $18.82.

Furby said that the issue is ongoing and exacerbated at a national level, not just in Fairfax County. “I think it’s because of the economy now,” she said, explaining that bus drivers tend to take on other positions within the school district due to promotions.

Now, the county will offer drivers a raise to $19.20 per hour — $0.19 cents higher per hour than the salary for the previous school year.

Furby said that FCPS transportation office workers would be pulled out of their current positions answering phone calls from parents and instead be asked to drive students.

While some of the office workers are all set to start in their new roles, Furby said that the other office workers will receive the training and resources required for FCPS bus drivers.

She also said that there is a recruitment bonus of $1,000 for existing employees who refer a friend for a bus driver position.”We do know recruiting people by word of mouth is very effective.”

Qualified candidates need to be able to pass a physical and a drug test, clear a background check, have a safe driving record, take a 5-week course and obtain a commercial driving license. Drivers will be assigned to where they are most needed in the county, according to Furby.

“It can cause students to get into school late and get home late,” she said.

File photo

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Bus riders in the Tysons area can expect to see blue and white Fastran buses on some Fairfax Connector routes starting today (June 3).

The buses are meant to help riders impacted by the summer shutdown of several Metro stations during the summer.

The Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services and Fairfax County Department of Transportation teamed up to bring Fastran buses to a few Fairfax Connector routes, as the Fairfax Connector offers more service on two express routes from the Springfield area to the Pentagon.

The Fastran buses will cover these Fairfax Connector routes:

“Fastran buses do not have route numbers and destinations listed outside of the buses,” according to Fairfax County. “The Fastran buses will stop at each bus stop on affected routes to make sure passengers know to board. When boarding, please look for a sign inside the bus to verify your route.”

Riders won’t be able to check real-time arrival information for the Fastran buses, since the buses do not have the technology. Fairfax County urges riders to get to their bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus’ scheduled arrival time, which can be found via the static schedule information on BusTracker and by texting 41-411.

Metro recently closed several stations on the Blue and Yellow lines south of Ronald Reagan National Airport for platform reconstruction that will last until September.

Fairfax County is deploying the Fastran buses through September.

Let us know below if the Metro shutdown will affect you during the summer.

Photo via UCM of Alexandria/Facebook

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The City of Falls Church is looking to reduce its residential parking and ramp up its multi-modal transportation options.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board (TPB) approved $680,000 in assistance for 13 projects, including one to support a residential parking standards update underway in Falls Church.

Details on the update are scarce, but according to the TPB:

This project will update multi-family residential parking requirements for new development in the area. An outcome of this project will include revisions to the city’s Traffic Impact Analyses tables, which are used to estimate potential traffic impacts of proposed land uses and assign parking requirements. The project will also support a potential revision to the city’s zoning ordinance. The updated standards would be intended for use in all future multi-family residential projects and useful to other jurisdictions in the region.

The look at residential parking follows a commercial parking requirements update approved in 2016.

The residential parking standards update would be one part of a broader effort to promote non-car transportation through the city. The FY2019 budget included $25,000 to restore a commuter incentive program.

Photo via Facebook.

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After 32,000 student trips, the free Metrobus pilot program at Justice High School in Falls Church could be expanding to Marshall High School in Tysons.

Students across the county can use the Fairfax Connector and City of Fairfax CUE bus for free, and students account for 1.4 million trips on those buses in less than 4 years, but the passes have not been usable on the Metro system.

Over the last eight months, 35 percent of students at Justice High School have gotten a Metrobus-enabled student bus pass. Students at the school account for 3,500-4,000 trips per month.

Nearly half of the ridership among Justice High School students was on Metrobus Route 28A, which runs along Route 7 from King Street in Alexandria to Tysons.

Of students surveyed as part of the pilot, 70 percent had never ridden a Metrobus to or from school and 52 percent said they would not ride unless it was free. The majority of students said they also wanted to see more routes, extended hours and Metrorail service added.

The top three uses for the pass were traveling home or to activity centers — Tysons specifically — or to an after-school job.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday (May 14), faculty and students from Justice High School told the committee about their experiences with the program as the committee considered an expansion of the pilot.

A similar pilot program is planned for either Marshall High School, Falls Church High School or Annandale High School in the 2020-2021 school year.

“Students take the bus to the mall and the movies, but they also go to work with it,” Justice High School Principal Maria Eck said. “I met with a student on a totally different topic, but he told me he got a better job because of the bus pass. Now he can find a job he can get transportation to, and he’s going up to Tysons to help his family.”

Staff recommended renewing the agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to continue the pilot at Justice High School next year.

“When I first heard about it, I couldn’t believe it,” Carlos Pineda-Lopez, a student at Justice High School, said. “Now, I’m not paying $40 a week for Metro. It’s been amazing. For a family that makes $30,000 with both parents combined, that adds up. Sometimes I couldn’t go to practice or work and that would hurt my family. This bus pass increased my mobility and range of jobs. Now, I can go anywhere in Virginia. That’s how the pass has helped me. It’s helped as a next step towards adulthood.”

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Updated at 5:05 p.m. — Tysons Reporter interviewed FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny, who provided more information about the driver shortage and advice for bus riders.

The Fairfax Connector currently doesn’t have enough bus drivers.

A service operation alert on the Fairfax Connector BusTracker website today (May 7) says that the shortage is affecting the entire bus system. The alert says:

The Fairfax Connector bus operations contractor is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers which is impacting service delivery. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate our passengers’ patience as the contractor is working diligently to recruit drivers and add staffing, when possible, to minimize further impacts.

Tom Biesiadny, the director of Fairfax County’s transportation department, told Tysons Reporter that work is underway with MV Transportation, the current bus system’s operator, on the shortage.

“We are working with the contractor to make sure we have the staff that is needed to operate the bus system on a daily basis,” he said.

In addition to the contractor hiring more drivers — something that Biesiadny said has always been a challenge in the area, FCDOT is working to figure out which routes will be least impacted by missed or delayed buses.

“What we’re trying to do is to ensure that if there are trips that are going to be missed that we make sure that it’s not affecting the same route all of the time,” he said.

He said that the driver shortage varies day by day, with Fridays tending to be more problematic. “This is a relatively recent problem to the extent it is affecting all of our trips,” he said.

The shortages began about a week after the announcement that Fairfax County awarded a five-year contract to Transdev North America to operate the Fairfax Connector starting July 1.

Biesiadny said that the contractor switch may be one of the causes behind the shortage.

“Anytime you’re transitioning from one contractor to another contractor there are uncertainties in the workforce,” he said. “I wouldn’t discount that. I wouldn’t say that’s the entire reason.”

Some people took to Twitter to share delayed buses — or ones that never showed up at all — have caused transportation headaches.

One person noted that the same driver shortage alert popped up earlier this month on Friday, May 3.

The reader who tipped Tysons Reporter off about the shortage also expressed concern for people using alternative transportation in the Tysons-area tomorrow (May 8) — the same day that some Uber and Lyft drivers plan to strike.

Biesiadny stressed the importance of planning trips and using resources like Twitter, Facebook, BusTracker, texting stop IDs to 414-11 and the customer service number as a way for people to find out the bus schedules.

“We’re trying to reach out to passengers but also we also want passengers to reach out to us,” he said.

Photo via Facebook

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A new Fairfax Connector bus line is scheduled to start later this month, adding another set of connections from Tysons to Vienna and Dunn Loring.

The new bus line bridges the north-south gap between the Tysons Corner Metro station on the Silver Line and the Dunn Loring Metro station on the Orange Line.

Route 467 starts and ends in the same spots as Route 462, but takes a more circuitous route through Vienna, turning at the corner, running from Dunn Loring to the corner of Center Street and Maple Avenue before turning to travel along the western side of Maple Avenue up to Tysons.

Route 467 is scheduled to be active midday and evenings on weekdays and Saturday, starting Saturday, March 30.

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