In rush-hour D.C., abundance of transportation options look “amazing”

At Arlington Transportation Partners and goDCgo, our job is to encourage residents and visitors in the Washington D.C. metro region to consider sustainable and active commutes.

So we decided to try some of the many options in our first annual “Amazing Commuter Race.” In our book, the best ways to travel come down to cost, time, and stress.

Here were our rules:

  • Start in a location where it was possible for our five contestants to catch Metrorail, Split, Bridj, Capital Bikeshare, and Uber and get to our office in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia
  • For the two services that don’t extend into Arlington (Split and Bridj), contestants were allowed to go multimodal
  • Provide updates on a live Twitter feed, the good and the bad, to give readers a realistic experience
  • Contestants completed their routes when they arrived at their desks, in business clothes, ready to start the day

Here’s how each fared:

5th Place – Bridj

commuterace_bridjWhile a viable option for connecting D.C. neighborhoods, Bridj doesn’t extend into Arlington. Unfortunately, Bridj came in last due to downtown traffic issues.

  • Contestant: Brendan Casey
  • Modes used: Bridj > Metro > Walk
  • Total price of trip: $5.15 (Bridj: $3.00, Metro: $2.15)
  • Time of entire trip: 67 minutes
  • Brendan’s take: “Only two people on board and both of us got on at Grant Circle. Seemed like there was a lot of needless driving through Petworth when Bridj would have known that there were no other passengers booked for that shuttle. I do like that Bridj uses bus-stop areas for pick up and drop off and avoids the “Im’ma block this lane, but it’s cool ’cause my flashers are on” scenario. The driver was great, avoided bumps when safe to do so, no erratic driving, and I felt safe and comfy the whole time. Despite coming in last, it really was a good experience, albeit far too long for me for the distance traveled.”

4th Place – Metrorail

commuterace_metroMetro was used as a control of sorts, since we assumed most people coming from Petworth would likely choose Metro, for at least part of their journey. Missed trains and crowded cars made this commute a little longer than it needed to be, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

  • Contestant: Keara Mehlert
  • Modes used: Metro > Walk
  • Total price of trip: $2.75
  • Time of entire trip: 55 minutes
  • Keara’s take: “Started in Petworth and just missed a train headed south while I was going down the stairs, and a new train at that! Had to wait almost 10 minutes for the next train because an earlier one was offloaded at Ft. Totten. Instead of switching at L’Enfant, I decided to switch twice from Green to Red to Silver/Blue/Orange at Gallery Place and Metro Center. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on a train at Gallery Place because it was too crowded and had to wait three minutes for the next train. After that it was pretty smooth sailing.”

3rd Place – Split

commuterace_splitSimilar to Bridj, Split does not currently operate in Arlington. However, it is able to take its riders a bit further, all the way to Georgetown. With D.C.-only service, a multimodal trip was necessary.

  • Contestant: Jonathan Bollhoefer
  • Modes used: Split > Capital Bikeshare > Walk
  • Total price of trip: $7.25 (Split: $7.02, Daily rate for annual Capital Bikeshare membership: $0.23)
  • Time of entire trip: 47 minutes
  • Jonathan’s take: “I opened my Split app casually and set the pin for my current location and destination. I planned to travel from Petworth to a bikeshare station in Georgetown near the edge of the Split service area. From there I knew I could finish the journey on Capital Bikeshare across the Key Bridge into Rosslyn. After setting my pins, I walked a short half block for my pickup location. I had about an eight-minute wait until my car would arrive. I took the time to check some emails and catch up on the news. My Split arrived in only six minutes and we were on our way! Carla was kind enough to take a selfie with me to document my excitement. As expected, we hit a good bit of traffic while traveling through some of the more populated areas of D.C. Cardozo and Dupont Circle were both inundated with rush-hour traffic that slowed down the drive. The ride with Split took 24 minutes. I checked out a Capital Bikeshare bike and rode the final 1.3 miles across the Key Bridge before walking into the office.”

2nd Place – Capital Bikeshare

commuterace_bikeshareWith the advantages of bike infrastructure, it was easy to skip traffic that other modes hit and arrive with enough time to even take a shower!

  • Contestant: Grace Oran
  • Modes used: Capital Bikeshare
  • Total price of trip: $1.73 (Daily rate for annual membership: $0.23, $1.50 in overage fee since trip was more than 30 minutes. This fee can be avoided when you turn in your bike at a station and take out another one.)
  • Time of entire trip: 44 minutes (31 minutes for trip time, 13 minutes for shower/change)
  • Grace’s take: “I’m so energized, I don’t even need a cup of coffee! It was lovely to feel the wind in my helmet-hair and be immersed in the sights and sounds of the city. We had perfect weather so it was great to be outside instead of in a car or tunnel. I got in my workout for the day, and if I want to, I can take the Metro or go multimodal on the way home. On the downside, I biked a few roads that aren’t so bike-friendly, like M Street through Georgetown, which can be pretty frustrating. If there was bad weather, I’d probably rather be in another form of transportation. Also, I got one of the last few bikes at my starting station – if we had left a little later, all the bikes would have been gone and I would have needed to walk about 10 minutes to the nearest station. Bikeshare is a popular commute option!”

1st Place – Uber

commuterace_uberNo one is surprised this option won with door-to-door service, but it did put another car on the road that didn’t necessarily need to be there, especially since I was riding alone. Also, at nearly $14 per ride (one way), it’s not a financially sound option for a daily commute.

  • Contestant: Maggie Awad
  • Modes used: Uber (Lyft was running its 50 percent off deal and we needed accurate pricing for the race)
  • Total price of trip: $13.78
  • Time of entire trip: 31 minutes
  • Maggie’s take: “The driver was very friendly, like most Uber drivers I’ve had in the past. While not super chatty, we did talk about Paris a bit since that’s where he’s from. The driver didn’t take the route I might have, but he was following Waze so I figured he was driving where there would be less traffic. I was also busy live tweeting and not paying attention to the route, which I think is accurate of most riders since they’re probably busy doing something else. We did hit a few GPS snags, nearly going down a road that had been blockaded for morning rush hour, but all in all, it was an easy trip. My only stress was keeping up with the tweets from the other contestants!”

Here’s a cheat sheet to the race. As you can see, it all depends on what you consider a win. The best and worst for cost and time are marked.

CommuteRaceCheatSheet(1)

Looking at all the positives and negatives here, what’s your preferred commute mode?

This is an excerpt from an article originally published at ATP’s blog.

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5 Comments or Mentions

5 Comment(s)

jackpwaterman

DC does have some great options! Surprised Split picked you up so quickly, I sometimes have a 15 minute wait. I think Bridj and Split would rank much higher if this contest was within their service area (split the cost, nearly door-to-door, A/C, smartphone-playtime)!

Reply
Carol Tyson

I love transportation options and alternatives, I really do. I live in DC proper. I don’t own a car. 4 out of the 5 modes in your challenge would not be available to a wheelchair user. I’d challenge you all to try your challenge again with only options available to folks with disabilities. Suddenly, the options aren’t so ‘Amazing’.

Reply
Maggie Awad

Hi Carol – that’s a great idea. I agree with you that the options would be a little harder when including paratransit. Next time, we’ll see if there’s a way to do this for people with disabilities. It will no doubt provide even more insight to all our transportation options.

Reply
Katy

Is there a particular reason why you didn’t decide to use Metrobus for one of the transportation options? It wouldn’t win on time during rush hour, but is aboveground, doesn’t put another car on the road, is accessible, and relatively cheaper.

Reply
Maggie Awad

Hi Katy – we didn’t opt for Metrobus as we figured most people would be more likely to take Metrorail from Petworth to Rosslyn as opposed to Metrobus (we wanted it to feel realistic). We were also very curious to see how Bridj and Split would stack up in the mix since they are a little newer on the scene, which is why we opted into both of those services. If we’d had one more available contestant, we would have definitely included bus. We plan on mixing it up next year and incorporating a lot of the feedback. Thanks so much and stay tuned for the next commute race!

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