Reston, VA

Revenues from decreased ridership are taking a hit on the Fairfax Connector as the fallout of COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold.

The bus service is set to receive $1.85 million in funds from the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees statewide transportation and transit projects, to help address the impact of the novel coronavirus, including a dip in revenue from fares. Last week, the board approved supplemental funding to help stave off the impact of service reduction, ridership losses, and decreases in revenue.

But the funding, which was OK’d by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), would only keep the buses rolling for about two months.

Fares on buses were temporarily suspended last week because fare boxes are located at the front of buses. Customers are required to enter and exit buses using the rear doors.

Here’s more from the board matter approved by the Board of Supervisors:

County staff have been responding to the onset of COVID-19, ensuring that Fairfax Connector employees are prepared, and the County’s capital assets are cleaned frequently to help reduce the potential spread of the disease. At the same time, County staff have been ensuring Fairfax Connector service continues to be available to serve Fairfax County residents who have no alternate way to travel during this emergency. The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is continuing to implement changes necessary to protect the health and safety of Fairfax Connector employees, customers and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as requiring passengers to enter and exit the bus using the rear doors, with the exception of customers who need to use a wheelchair ramp. Fare collection on buses has been temporarily suspended due to the location of fareboxes at the front entrance of buses. The County will continue make adjustments to Fairfax Connector service to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will ensure information on such adjustments is provided to the public.

An FCDOT spokesperson told Reston Now that although ridership had dipped, statistics on the extent of the increases are not yet available.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Fairfax Connector Suspends Fares, Begins Rear Door Boarding — The bus service has temporarily suspended fare collection and all customers must enter and exit the bus using the rear doors. Fares will be suspended because fareboxes and SmarTrip equipment is at the front entrance of buses. Service continues in order to “serve Fairfax County residents who. Have no alternate way to travel during this emergency.” [Fairfax County Government]

Stonebridge Companies Acquires Residence Inn — The Denver-based company will manage the 168-room Residence Inn by Marriott in Herndon.  The hotel is located at 315 Elden Street. [Hotel Executive] 

Playgrounds, Parks, and Park Authority Restrooms Now Closed — “Effectively immediately, all Fairfax County Park Authority playgrounds, skate parks and restrooms will be closed until further notice. Portable restrooms will be placed near all bathrooms. Signs will be posted at all affected locations. Park visitors are asked to adhere to all closure notices and current social distancing recommendations.” [Fairfax County Government]

Herndon-Fish Offers Emergency Financial Help — “At least for the time being, we are making no changes in our criteria for providing assistance, and our operations remain in place to make this possible. Because our efforts related to providing emergency financial assistance are done by phone and online, we can carry out these activities without endangering the health of those involved. Changes in our revenue receipts or alterations in government policy could mandate that we alter these policies in the future, but they remain in place for now.” [Herndon-Reston Fish]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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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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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is seeking input on future bus service to and from phase two of the Silver Line.

Residents can provide feedback at two meetings: Hutchinson Elementary School on Sat., March 21 from 10 a.m. to noon and South Lakes High School on Wed., March 25 from 7-9 p.m. Feedback will also be accepted online from March 16 through April 16.

Service will begin once the Metro stations are Reston Town Center, Herndon, Innovation Center, Dulles Airport, Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn are open.

In December, FCDOT officials backed the most transformative of three options to change service levels. This approach would impact a greater coverage area and was endorsed by the county’s Multimodal Advisory Committee. Other options include incremental changes to service plans or streamlining of existing routes.

More information about the proposals is available online.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Fairfax Connector shared the steps being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as more cases are reported in the D.C. area.

Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation announced on Friday (March 6) that contractors are following these steps:

  • reviewed and updated cleaning protocols based on guidance from public health officials
  • increased vehicle cleaning cycles with a special focus on bus interiors and critical touchpoints such as door handles, handrails and other surfaces.
  • initiated regular communication with Fairfax Connector workforce

The county’s Board of Supervisors is expected to receive an update about the county’s preparations against the virus tomorrow (Tuesday).

Fairfax County also has suggestions for passengers to curtail the rapidly-spreading illness:

  • wash hands often with soap and water and use hand sanitizer
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • cover your mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing
  • avoid contact with people who are sick
  • stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others

“FCDOT highly values the health and safety of Fairfax Connector customers and personnel,” the county said.

Virginia has three “presumptive” cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Cases involving a Marine Base Corps Quantico resident at Fort Belvoir and a City of Fairfax resident — were announced yesterday (Sunday). Today (Monday) a presumptive case of coronavirus was announced in Arlington.

As local schools in the D.C. area prepare for possible closures due to local coronavirus cases, Fairfax County Public Schools are currently open today.

In a letter to families on Saturday (March 7), Superintendent Scott Brabrand said that FCPS is working with the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) to monitor the disease.

FCPS-sponsored international field trips and short-term international visitations have been suspended through June 30, the letter notes.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, risk to the U.S. public is considered low at this time,” according to FCPS. “The FCHD has provided an updated handout about COVID-19 for the community.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Fatimah Waseem contributed reporting.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

New Express Route to Pentagon, Changes Come to Fairfax Connector — A new express route to the Pentagon will be available later this month after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor’s approved changes to the bus system. Minor time adjustments will also go into effect on Route 950 –from Herndon-Reston. [Fairfax County Government]

Former comScore CEO and Board Member Steps Down — “ComScore has had a number of CEOs and board members come and go. Its latest executive to depart points to “clear skies and smooth waters” ahead for the embattled Reston company.”  [Washington Business Journal]

Reston Woman Dropped off by Redskins’ Player Died of Accidental Overdose — “A woman who was dropped off “unconscious and unresponsive” at a Loudoun County medical center by Washington Redskins safety Montae Nicholson and a friend in November died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, authorities said a Virginia medical examiner has ruled. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that the investigation into the death of Julia Crabbe, 21, of Reston, remains ongoing and that detectives are still trying to determine the source of the drug that killed her. No charges have been filed.” [The Washington Post]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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With bus loop construction nearly complete, Fairfax Connector service to and from the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride will return to normal today (Monday).

The bus loop is expected to close in the spring again to complete concrete work. Details about the upcoming closure have not been publicly released yet.

Here’s more from Fairfax County government:

Fairfax Connector and Metrobus passengers who make travel connections at Herndon-Monroe will board buses at the bus loop once again starting Jan. 6, instead of the temporary stops along Sunrise Valley Drive used during construction. Fairfax Connector Routes operating to and from the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride are: 551924926, 927929937950951952980981983.

Routes were changed in late September.

File photo

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Local Fairfax County transportations officials are considering changes to Fairfax Connector routes in the Reston and Herndon area to meet demands created by the expansion of the Silver Line next year.

Of three options presented for changes, the county is recommending the “transformation” option — Other options included increment changes to the development plan or streamlining existing routes.

The recommended model would offer new service options, all day local service, and more frequent service to Metrorail Station through feeder routes at peak times. New planned connections include Sterling Plaza, Centreville and George Mason University in Fairfax.

County officials say the transformation model covers a greater area and includes the future Innovation Station. The model was also endorsed by the Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee for recommendation to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT).

A recent marketing survey found the following areas had the lowest rankings:

  • Available when you need it
  • Fast way to travel
  • Goes places you need to go
  • Offers real-time information
  • Fits into your lifestyle

Users sought more frequent service, operation earlier or later in the day, and express bus service. Others said they were concerned about connections to Wiehle-Reston Metro East Station and Reston Town Center.

Reston Association’s Board of Directors will vote on a preferred service alternative on Thursday (Dec. 19).

Photo via FCDOT

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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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Friday Morning Notes

Fairfax Connector Offers Limited Service Today — As day two of a worker strike continues, several routes will only run on Sunday service and some routes will not run at all. [Fairfax County Government]

Metro Releases Concepts to Improve Service — Metro “released several preliminary concepts to improve reliability, meet future ridership demand, and better serve customers on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The concepts, part of the two-year Blue/Orange/Silver Capacity and Reliability Study (BOS Study), include a range of infrastructure improvements and service alternatives to address both short- and long-term needs.” [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Wiehle-Reston East Station Closed This Weekend — “Crews are gearing up to try and finish construction of Phase Two of the Silver Line extension in time for a September opening, and it’s going to mean some continuous inconveniences for weekend Metro riders. Just like the past few weekends, the Wiehle-Reston East Station will close again order as crews work on the expansion project. The work (and the closures) will continue most weekends through February 2020, per Metro. Free shuttle buses will be available between the Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations.” [DCIST]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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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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This op-ed was submitted by Kaelyn Serrao. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now. We publish opinion contributions of specific interest to the Reston community. Contributions may be edited for length or content. 

I am writing in response to the article titled “Strike Against Metrobus Contractor Could Impact Fairfax Connector Service”, published in your online newspaper on November 18th, 2019.  I was not aware of the current dispute going on between the Fairfax Connector drivers and the contractor of Metrobus and felt that your article articulated the issue well.  I felt that there was no overwhelming bias present and appreciated the Fairfax County Department of Transportation stating their position on the negotiations. 

Although they predict that there will be no impacts on service due to these negotiations, there is a possibility it could cause issues for those who are dependent on the transportation line.  People may not feel that this labor dispute is a big deal because it does not affect them directly, but if the negotiation doesn’t go well it could result in problems for a large portion of the community.  

I felt compelled to write a letter about this article because I feel that these types of issues are often overlooked.  The Fairfax Connector drivers are silent heroes that continually get people where they need to be in a safe and timely fashion. They deserve to be recognized for their service to the public and have their labor requests reviewed and implemented with the upmost respect.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A 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.

In a release the county warned that ongoing negotiations for a new labor agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 could result in service delays. Currently, no impact to service is anticipated.

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

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Monday Morning Notes

Second Round of Meetings on Fairfax Connector Service Changes — “Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will hold a second round of community input meetings and engagement opportunities to encourage public input on alternatives developed to provide enhanced Fairfax Connector bus service in the Reston and Herndon areas, including connections to the future Metrorail Silver Line Phase 2 stations in Herndon and Reston.” [Fairfax County Government]

Why Rush Hour Promise Was Cancelled After Crash — “The refunds were offered to registered SmarTrip cardholders who were caught up in major Blue, Orange and Silver Line delays on the morning of Monday, Oct. 7. But they were not provided to those riders in the afternoon even as the crumpled cars continued to block one of the tracks near Farragut West.” [WTOP]

Community Action Spurs. Changers to Campus Commons Plan — “Consistent with the Reston Master Plan principle of public participation in planning and zoning, Reston citizens banded together to improve a flawed redevelopment plan by TF Cornerstone, for Campus Commons, located in the Reston Transit Station Area (TSA) at Wiehle Avenue and Sunrise Valley Drive. Among several reasons, the plan failed to gain community support because it does not adequately provide safe pedestrian crossings and will add at least 6,100 daily car trips.” [Reston 2020]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Fairfax County is seeking more feedback from commuters who use the Fairfax Connector.

A new round of meetings will give community members another chance to provide critiques for plans for the future of the Fairfax Connector and the Silver Line Metrorail expansion around Reston and Herndon, according to a press release.

People who want to give feedback can attend any of the three upcoming meetings, which are all accessible from the Fairfax Connector.

  • Herndon Middle School Cafeteria (901 Locust Street) on Thursday (Oct. 28) from 7-9 p.m.
  • Ox Hill Baptist Church (4101 Elmwood Street) on Friday (Oct. 29) from 7-9 p.m.
  • Reston Community Center at Lake Anne (1609-A Washington Plaza) on Saturday (Nov. 2) from 10 a.m.-noon

Anyone unable to attend the meetings in person may give feedback online. The form will be open from Oct. 23 until Nov. 30.

Comments can also be mailed to Fairfax County Department of Transportation, 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax, VA 22033.

Feedback from the meetings will be synthesized and converted into another design to “provide better access to destinations, improved travel times, increased schedule reliability and more dependable service,” the press release said.

This final plan will be available in early 2020 for a final round of critiques.

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