Reston, VA

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors indicated interest in a pilot program for electric-powered buses during its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

During the meeting, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny delivered an presentation that explained the “ins and outs” of electric vehicles and and included a proposal for moving forward with a pilot plan.

The next step would be to return to the supervisors with a more in-depth financial plan that includes details such as when and where this would take place, and how long the demonstration would last, which could be in the early part of 2021, Biesiadny says.

“This is exciting,”said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay. “Clearly we need to jump into this area and we need to do it quickly.”

Providence Supervisor Dalia Palchick supported a pilot because it would help ensure the county implements these changes correctly.

“This is the future,” she said. “We need to stop going backward. I’m hopeful to see a plan not just to see a pilot but do a demonstration project, which in my mind, means ‘how can we move forward?'”

A pilot with four buses could cost between $3.8 million and $4.2 million, a gross cost that does not take into account sources of funding. Some money has been set aside through a bus replacement program, and there are grants available, Biesiadny said.

FCDOT has in-house and external expertise from Fairfax’s “ongoing partnership with Dominion Energy” and the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit team to draw from, said Tom Reynolds, the FCDOT Section Chief of Transit Services Division.

The pilot would help the department learn about the buses’ range and charging, how they perform during different seasons of the year and on various local and express routes, and what staff training needs to be done, Reynolds said.

“The sooner we do the pilot, the sooner we see the results of it, the sooner we can start to make longer-term decisions about some of the capital costs that would be necessary if we were to expand this,” McKay said.

When the county talks about costs, Palchik — who said she developed childhood asthma living in the area — and Braddock Supervisor James Walkinshaw emphasized the costs of treating asthma and the health impacts of poor air quality.

“In Virginia, we spend $87 million a year because of asthma hospitalization,” Walkinshaw said. “Fairfax County is lower, but Route One is higher. Annandale is higher. Other parts of the county are higher. It would be a small thing, but as we look at this pilot, we might want to look at locating it in parts of the county that have been hit harder by asthma.”

Fairfax County’s first effort to introduce electric vehicles into public transit came this year with the autonomous Relay shuttle now operating in the Mosaic District. That demonstration project is a partnership with Dominion Energy, Biesiadny said.

Photo via Electrify America

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Monday Morning Notes

New Roles for County Bus Drivers — Fairfax County Public Schools’ bus drivers are taking on new roles during a hiatus in in-person learning. Some were matched with temporary jobs based on their skill set. [NBC 4]

Volunteers Sought for Laptop and Book Distribution — Volunteers are “greatly needed” to help schools in Reston and Herndon, according to Fairfax County Public Schools. Volunteers can sign up to help with curbside library book distribution, weekend food distribution packing, helping with laptop distribution, and other tasks. [Fairfax County Government]

Virtual Appraisal Roadshow Set for Tomorrow — Reston Association is hosting a virtual appraisal roadshow from 11 a.m. to noon tomorrow (Tuesday). Experts will be on-site to educate the audience about facts and the worth of items selected by residents. [RA]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax Connector will resume full service on all routes beginning Aug. 29, bringing a return to a new normal after months-long disruptions in service.

The bus service — which is the largest local bus system in the state — will also feature new services, including a new commuter route from Stringfellow Road Park and Ride to Southwest DC.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay thanks customers for being patient with past service reductions. Throughout the pandemic, the bus service maintained roughly 70 percent of its service in order to cater to customers who depend on it for essential jobs and vital services.

“As we return to full service, the health and safety of Fairfax Connector passengers and personnel continue to be our top priority. Working together to diligently follow public health and safety guidelines will result in safer travel conditions for all,” McKay wrote in a statement.

A breakdown of new service being offered is below:

Route 699: Enhanced service on this route includes two additional morning and afternoon rush hour trips from the Fairfax County Government Center to Downtown Washington, D.C. (Foggy Bottom); adjustments to the departure times to better align with rider demand; and morning and afternoon rush hour reverse commute trips from Downtown, Washington, D.C., to the Fairfax County Government Center.  This route is supported by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) Commuter Choice Program and I-66 toll revenues.

Route 334: Enhanced weekday service operating every 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour during non-rush hour to better serve the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) facility in Springfield by way of Springfield Center Drive and Metropolitan Center Drive, with access to the Franconia Springfield Metrorail Station, the Defense Logistics Agency, and the Army Museum.

Routes 340/341: Minor route adjustments to maintain efficiency and dependability.

Transdev, the bus system’s operations contractor, will implement improved cleaning protocols, especially on common touchpoints like door handles and handrails.

Customers must continue to enter and exit the bus through the rear doors. A face mask is still required while riding the bus.

Riders are encouraged to practice social distancing by keeping six feet apart, when and if possible.

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand has no plans to furlough bus drivers and food service workers, despite the virtual start to school next month.

In a letter sent to the community last night (Monday), Brabrand said he plans to “keep our FCPS family 100 percent intact” as the school year begins. Bus drivers are set to return to work on August 25. Some will deliver meals to specific locations or along select bus routes.

In other cases, the school system may provide other work assignments like facilities maintenance, student support, and delivering books and supplies to schools.

Brabrand also said the school system is working on an alternative plan to keep all food service workers employed throughout the academic years. Funding for service food service employees, which primarily relies on the sale of food, has taken a major hit due to school closures.

Here’s more from Brabrand’s letter:

I’d like to thank our food service employees for your heroic efforts to provide grab and go meals for our families since our schools shut down in March. More than 2 million meals have been served so far. Food distribution will continue through the rest of summer break and once the school year begins.   

A community survey is underway to determine meal demand for the upcoming school year. The results will determine if changes to the food striation schedule are warranted.

Other staff — including security guards and office employees — may also be asked to shuffle their job duties to support virtual learning.

The FCPS School Board is meeting today for a day-long work session to continue formalizing plans for the return to school.

Photo via FCPS

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After a variety of issues and delays, Silver Line’s Phase Two is now aiming for completion in spring 2021.

Updates on the second phase of the Silver Line were briefly mentioned due to time constraints during the Transportation Committee yesterday. Phase Two will connect six new stations to the Wiehle-Reston East, bringing Metro riders out to Ashburn.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said that he briefly talked to Paul Wiedefeld, the general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, last week.

“He assured me that — at least as of early last week — the Phase Two opening is still on track for next spring,” Alcorn said. “I’m sure there are probably a dozen ways that that can change, but for now, at least it is moving forward, according to that schedule.”

Phase Two is 98% complete overall, according to the presentation for Martha Elena Coello with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

The project has faced several delays, from train control software issues to flawed rail ties. The presentation addressed the ongoing issues the project has faced, including:

  • concrete panel deficiencies
  • concrete ties/cross level deficiencies
  • fouled ballast
  • automatic train control
  • insulated joints replacement

Work is expected to finish on the new rail, systems, stations and yard later this year or early 2021.

Recently, “substantial work” wrapped up on the garage at the Innovation Center Metro station, according to the presentation. The garage, which costs roughly $52 million, is 98% complete and awaiting its official occupancy permit, according to the presentation.

Bus loop work is expected to be done at the Herndon station garage this month.

The presentation also provided an update on the bus service plan for Phase Two. Currently, Fairfax County is seeking public input on the plan.

More from Fairfax Connector:

Welcome to the Reston-Herndon Area Bus Service Review final round of public input!… Fairfax Connector is considering a variety of options to improve bus service to, from, and around the new stations in Fairfax County.

Our previous round of outreach proposed three bus transit service alternatives, each with their own set of unique characteristics. We ranked the alternatives based on coverage, average travel times between key origin-destination pairs, and ridership potential (see right). We also listened to what Connector riders and nonriders had to say through several public meetings and an online survey. Based on feedback received, the preferred alternative presented today is cost-neutral, and includes the best elements of the three originally proposed scenarios and existing service.

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(Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has selected its preferred bus service plan for the Fairfax Connector in Reston and Herndon.

County planners say the plan “aims to improve on-time performance and streamline service to meet the needs of the community and commuters.”

Here’s more from FCDOT on what’s being considered:

Some of the key improvements to the bus service in the area include new and more direct connections and routes; new connections to Chantilly, Centreville and the Dulles Corridor; service to Northern Virginia Community College (Loudoun Campus); and routes travelling from Sterling to Herndon. The plan, which also uses elements from all three of the proposed alternatives, shortens travel time, increases access for transit dependent populations, and maintains bus stop coverage at most locations.

The implementation of the proposed service changes will coincide with the start of the new Metrorail Silver Line service and will provide connections to the Reston Town Center StationHerndon StationInnovation Center StationDulles Airport StationLoudoun Gateway Station and Ashburn Station.

The plan will include three new routes: Chantilly to the Dulles Corridor, Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun campus, and Sterling too Herndon. Planners say the proposal shortens travel time and creates more direct connections.

The average travel time could be reduced from 57.3 minutes to 49.4 minutes. The updated plan would also improve service to more households, especially those that are low-income.

More information about the proposal is available online.

The county is seeking feedback via an online survey and via email at [email protected]. Residents can also call the county at 703-877-5600, extension 711, or mail comments to 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400.

The county is also hosting a virtual public meeting on the plan with Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust on Wednesday, July 8 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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County officials are evaluating if the Fairfax Connector bus service should continue normal operations. For now, Fairfax Connector is operating on a normal schedule.

A spokesperson for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation told Reston Now that changes in service levels are possible in the future, but no plans have been finalized yet.

Overall, ridership has taken a hit, but it’s too soon to tell by how much, according to Robin Geiger, an FCDOT spokeswoman.

The Fairfax Connector’s operations contractor has implemented a more rigorous vehicle cleaning cycle with “a special focus on bus interiors and critical touchpoints such as door handles, handrails, and other surfaces,” according to FCDOT. The contractor is also working with its workforce to ensure employees are informed about coronavirus and measures to slow its spread.

Passengers should continue to practice ways to prevent spreading COVID-19 by washing hands often with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes nose or mouth, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

The Fairfax Health District has 14 presumptive cases of COVID-19.

How do you think the bus service should respond to COVID-19? Let us know in the poll below.

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All Fairfax Connector buses will return to normal operations today (Monday) after a worker strike ends.

Transdev, the company that recently took on a new contract to operate buses for the county, is ending the strike without a negotiated contract.

The Amalgamated Transit Unions 1764 told WTOP that a deal is within reach, although issues like wages, vacation, sick time and retirement remain to be ironed out.

“We still have items to negotiate, but our riders come first and foremost for us. We are going back to work because their support and that of elected officials and allies have helped us make significant advances at the table,” said ATU International President John Costa said in a release Sunday night.

Photo via ATU 1764/Facebook

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Commuters who rely on Fairfax Connector service should plan to make alternate plans tomorrow (Thursday).

Fairfax Connector workers plan to begin a strike at 3 a.m. tomorrow, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union.

The service, which is used by 30,000 individuals on a daily basis, will operate on a Sunday schedule tomorrow.

The strike comes after failed negotiations over a contract extension and an ongoing six-week-long strike at a Metro garage in Lorton. Transdev, a private company recently hired by the county, operates both services.

Here’s more from the county’s transportation department:

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.

Workers plan to stand at picket lines at three locations in the county, including the stop at 268 Spring Street in Herndon.

Here’s more from the union on the strike:

Five weeks after its union-busting tactics unleashed an unprecedented Metrobus strike that continues to this day, private transit contractor Transdev is at it again.

With more than 36 allegations of labor law violations alleged against the company, six hundred Transdev workers who operate and maintain the Fairfax Connector are striking beginning December 5.

Commuters should sign up for text or email alerts, follow Fairfax Connector on Twitter and Facebook, or call the service’s customer service line at 703-339-7200 for updates on service impacts.

County officials are encouraging residents to carpool, bike, walk or telework tomorrow.

We appreciate our passengers’ patience as Transdev and ATU are continuing to negotiate a new contract.  Until an agreement is reached, Fairfax County will continue to update Fairfax Connector customers with operating status on a regular basis,” according to a statement by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is offering residents free bus fare and prizes this week to celebrate Try Transit Week, which is in effect through Friday.

Fairfax County residents can try transit and go car-free with a free $50 Smart Trip Card to use on transit or parking at county Metrorail parking garages to residents. In order to receive the gift card, residents must complete an online survey. Social media users can also share photos of their “smart commuting” experience on the FCODT’s Facebook for a chance to win a free Echo Dot.

Other regional and statewide partners are also offering other promotions:

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is invested in improving the infrastructure and resources to give commuters choices to get to work or get around town. Fairfax County invites residents to try some of these options during Try Transit Week and Car Free Days to build better commuting habits that will benefit us personally and globally today and well into the future,” according to FCDOT.

File photo

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A group of mothers from Fairfax County are banding together to push county schools to use electric school buses.

The group, Mothers out Front Fairfax, recently formed a local chapter of the national climate advocacy group Mothers Out Front.

“Our county has a chance to be on the cutting edge of technology and to be a national leader in providing our kids with healthy air and clean energy future,” said Kathy Keller, a nurse at Inova Fairfax hospital, Mothers out Front Fairfax member and a mom with two children in county schools.

The group formally launched its campaign at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna on Tuesday (August 20). Fairfax County Public School’s school board member Pat Hynes spoke at the event.

Here’s more from the group about their initiative:

Electric school buses, with no tailpipe emissions, eliminate children’s exposure to dangerous diesel exhaust during their ride to school. They have lower global warming emissions than diesel, even when the source of electricity is taken into account. They have no engine, muffler, or alternator that requires tune-ups, meaning a lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses of up to $170,000. They have a lower center of gravity than diesel buses and are therefore less likely to roll over. They are safer for our kids and cleaner for our environment.

The health and environmental benefits of electric school buses are well documented. Studies show that that exposure levels to harmful chemicals can be between 4 and 10 times higher on school buses than in the surrounding environment.

The county has the second largest public school fleet of buses in the country, behind only New York City.

Mothers Out Front is a national advocacy group. Members are mothers who aim to “ensure a livable climate for all children,” according to the organization’s website.

File photo

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For at least two weeks, the Fairfax Connector has been struggling with a shortage of bus drivers.

Although county officials say the number of missed and delayed trips has dropped over the last week, the shortage continues to impact riders’ commutes across the county. Some riders say buses have missed multiple trips for the last three weeks. Other buses have been delayed.

A service operation alert on the Fairfax Connector’s BusTracker website that previously alerted riders about the shortage was taken down. County officials are unsure why the alert is no longer on the website.

Tom Biesiadny, the director of Fairfax County’s transportation department, told Reston Now that MV Transportation, the current operator for the system, is “working through staffing issues.”

The county plans to switch operators to Transdev North America on July 1. The operator, which was awarded a five-year contract by the county, has started training bus drivers as part of its hiring process. Under the $443 million contract, Transdev will have 730 employees and operate 308 vehicles.

Although the cause and extent of the bus driver shortage is unclear, Biesiadny said the limited bus drivers is a regional issue.

“With the economy doing pretty well and unemployment being very low particularly in Northern Virginia, there’s a shortage of workers in general,” he said.

County officials urged riders to plan their trips ahead of time and check Twitter, Facebook and the Fairfax Connector’s BusTracker for the latest updates.

Riders can also text bus stop IDs to 414-11 to obtain information on trips and the latest bus schedules.

“What we’re trying to make sure that passengers know is that they should sign up for Bus Tracker emails or text alerts to make sure they see any important alerts,” Anna Nissinen, chief of communications for FCDOT, said. “That’s the best way to stay on top of travel.”

Photo via Facebook

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is seeking public input on the Fairfax Connector in the Herndon-Reston area as it looks toward improvements for the local bus service.

Future recommended improvements will also consider connecting the planned Metrorail Silver Line Phase 2 stations in Herndon and Reston, according to the county.

Ultimately, FCDOT aims to increase mobility and schedule reliability, create better access to destinations, improve travel times and grow ridership.

Over the next few weeks, Fairfax Connector staff will hand out information about how locals can get engaged and provide input, along with “free ride coupons” for use on all Fairfax Connector buses in the Herndon-Reston area.

Locals can provide feedback in a variety of ways, including:

  • attending an interactive community meeting
  • filling out an online survey
  • emailing input to [email protected]
  • mailing comments to 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400 in Fairfax, Va.

FCDOT will hold two interactive community meetings with interactive exercises to explore travel needs, issues and ideas. The first one is scheduled to take place at the RCC Lake Anne’s Jo Ann Rose Gallery (1609-A Washington Plaza) from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Jan. 26. The second one is set to take place at the Herndon Middle School’s cafeteria (901 Locust Street) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

People have until Feb. 15 to provide public input. After the deadline, FCDOT staff will compile the comments to incorporate into future planning.

FCDOT will then come back to the community in the spring to hold more community meetings to present and discuss a draft plan for future improvements for the service area.

The move to improve the bus service comes just a month after changes to the bus schedule were announced to make it easier for Herndon High School students to catch a ride were unveiled.

Starting on Saturday (Jan. 19), Routes 924 and 926 will be adjusted to align with the school’s bell schedule and provide better access for Herndon High School students.

File photo

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Updated at 12:30 p.m. — Fairfax County public schools will close by 6:15 p.m. 

“Due to the expected refreeze of roads tonight, FCPS facilities and school grounds will be closed starting at 6:15 p.m.,” FCPS tweeted at 12:26 p.m. today (Jan. 15). “All activities scheduled in FCPS schools or on school grounds for this evening must be completed by 6:15 p.m. or are canceled.”

FCPS tweeted last night that it would open two hours late today.

The delay was meant to allow more daylight for drivers and students who walk to school, according to the FCPS website.

School offices and central offices will open on time.

Morning preschool classes were canceled while afternoon preschool classes were set to start on their regular schedule. Full-day preschool and Family and Early Childhood Education Program-Head Start classes started two hours later than the regular schedule.

Adult and community education classes were set to start on time.

File photo

This story has been updated

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New changes to the Fairfax Connector bus schedule will hopefully make it easier for Herndon High School students to catch a ride.

Starting on Jan. 19, Routes 924 and 926 will be adjusted to align with the school’s bell schedule and provide better access for Herndon High School students.

The route is a weekday rush hour service only that that runs from the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station to the Town Center Plaza on Leesburg Pike.The route runs directly past Herndon High School.

The changes were approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in November, where Supervisor John Foust praised the swift response of Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff to issue the change.

“I just wanted to thank our transit group for being so responsive,” said Foust. “We have the ability to make connector services available to Herndon High School students by tweaking the schedule. I brought it to their attention and next thing I know, bam, it’s done.”

At the meeting, the Board of Supervisors also approved a new bus route in Vienna.

Photo via Facebook

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