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Are DC's new Circulator buses the ride of the future?

The new Circulator buses, running primarily along the new National Mall route but also in use elsewhere, offer better lighting and air conditioning, a greener, quieter ride, and even USB ports to charge your phone

The newest Circulator buses are greener and more comfortable--and you can even charge your phone while on board.
While the Circulator buses along the new National Mall route may look the same, riders have noticed substantial changes. Making their debut June 14, these are the first to feature advanced engines and hybrid technology. So the shiny red buses known to have the lowest fee in town—only $1 per ride—are now also low in harmful emissions.
Just like car owners, transit agencies are challenged by spikes in gas prices, says Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of policy, planning, and sustainability administration at DDOT. So the ability to save on gas is another benefit of the new buses.
And they aren't just eco-friendly; they also offer features for passenger comfort. “We've gotten some really good testimonials from riders who used it on trips to see a bunch of museums and on these really hot days that we've been having, [they’re grateful] having to not walk between them,” says Zimbabwe, who cites unreliable air conditioning as a challenge with many of the Circulator’s older models. The new buses have more powerful, roof mounted AC systems.
Another feature that should prove popular are the 19 USB ports each bus boasts, so riders can charge their phones during trips.
LED lighting on destination signs increase visibility for passengers and wider doors, low-to-floor entrance and sloped 32” wheelchair ramps increase accessibility.
The DC Circulator service was first introduced in July 2005. The first fleet featured 29 40-foot buses. By 2014, the fleet had grown to 49 total buses, which operate 5 neighborhood-linking routes.
The 18 newest buses—priced at $800,000 each—has allowed the Circulator to add its sixth route and was made possible by a collaboration between DDOT and the National Park Service.

“As far as I understand, this is the first time that the National Park Service has done this kind of partnering—they do run some transit services in other national parks, but this is unique,” says Zimbabwe. “The National Park Service has very constrained resources so I think it’s a real show of the commitment on their part of looking for different ways for people to get to the National Mall that they've been able to find a way to make a financial commitment to the service.”
Within its first two years, the National Mall route’s ridership is expected to exceed 880,000. So far, it’s seen about 2,000 daily riders.
Only a dozen of the new buses actually operate on this route, though. The remaining are used as replacements when older models need to be serviced—so there’s a chance commuters will land on a hybrid model outside of the National Mall route.
Of the original 49 Circulator buses, 29 need to be replaced altogether, says Zimbabwe. So within the next two years, there’s an even greater chance of riding on a cleaner, greener transit option throughout the city.

Read more articles by Christina Sturdivant.

Christina Sturdivant is a native Washingtonian who's always watching and writing about the latest cultural, community and innovative trends in the city. She's interested in people and companies that create equitable opportunities for longtime residents and transplants alike.
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