After outspoken opposition from students, university workers and administrators, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reversed plans to eliminate bus routes serving the Georgetown University campus.
The proposal to combine Route G2 (P Street-LeDroit Park Line) and Route D2 (Glover Park-Dupont Circle Line) and eliminate Route D1 (Glover Park-Franklin Square Line) was omitted from a revised WMATA budget for fiscal year 2021, which WMATA’s board unanimously passed April 2.
The preservation of the bus routes is a win for the Georgetown community, particularly for campus employees working during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Alex Taliadoros, organizing director at the Kalmanovitz Institute for Labor and the Working Poor, which develops policies and strategies to improve workers’ lives.
“Georgetown campus workers will especially benefit from the G2 route being preserved because many rely on it to get to the Metro and commute to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs,” Taliadoros wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Losing the G2 would have made workers’ already lengthy commute prohibitively long. This is especially important now, when frontline campus workers such as Facilities and custodial staff are continuing to come to campus each day to clean our buildings and limit the risk of exposure to coronavirus.”
Student groups, including the Georgetown University Student Association Federal & D.C. Relations Committee, were active in opposing the proposed changes. FedRel embarked on a February social media campaign called #WMATAWeek to increase student awareness about the service changes.
WMATA’s reversal proves that student voices can bring about change, according to Natalia Lopez (SFS ’22), secretary of D.C. affairs for FedRel.
“We should not understate the impact that Georgetown students and the rest of our community can make in creating substantive change within the DC area,” Lopez wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Input from university community members also proved integral in pushing WMATA to abandon the planned route changes, according to Heidi Tseu, director of local government affairs in Georgetown’s Office of Community Engagement.
“It is wonderful to see that in WMATA’s final proposed budget they heard the collective voices of Georgetown’s community and decided not to pursue the Metrobus cuts to the G2 line in front of the University,” Tseu wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is because of this engagement, and the thousands of comments that were submitted to WMATA, that we were able to make Georgetown’s voice heard in this debate.”
Tseu, along with several other university administrators, testified at a February WMATA public hearing about the proposed service changes. After the hearing, Georgetown also submitted a letter to WMATA opposing the changes.
Advocacy efforts shifted neighborhood opinion on the proposed changes to Route G2, according to WMATA’s Public Outreach & Input Report, which analyzed responses from an online feedback survey.
“The most pronounced shift occurred with respect to the G2 proposal. On February 25th, 255 responses had been collected with 50% of respondents against. However, on March 9th, 1,210 responses had been collected with 83% of respondents being against the proposal,” the report reads. “This strong shift after a sizable sample of 255 completes is highly unusual – the change must have been caused by factors introduced to the political environment after the first week.”
University and neighborhood groups promoted the public feedback process more actively than WMATA, according to Jordan Brown (COL ’21), who commutes to campus on the G2 bus.
“The online survey didn’t seem to be promoted very well by WMATA itself; most of what I saw asking people to fill out the survey was from Georgetown organizations or local community groups,” Brown wrote in an email to The Hoya. “For the most part, though, I’m glad they at least made the effort to find feedback and seemed to take it into consideration.”
Earlier engagement by WMATA with concerned residents would have made for a smoother feedback process, according to Advisory Neighborhood 2E Commissioner Kishan Putta, who testified against the proposed plans alongside constituents.
“When you’re going to do transportation planning, you need to have thorough analysis and come to the community for consultation ahead of time to learn what all the implications are going to be,” Putta said in an interview with The Hoya. “Don’t come to the community last, especially under a time pressure situation, otherwise you’re going to rile everyone up. Everyone’s going to be afraid and scared and there is going to be misinformation, and you’re going to have angry meetings.”
The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on WMATA’s finances might lead to future service change negotiations, according to Putta. Going forward, WMATA should prioritize making decisions with constituents in mind, Putta said.
“Future budgets might get tighter after the COVID crisis,” Putta said. “My strong recommendation, especially based on this experience, is that they should come to the community first, rather than dropping proposals on them with very short reaction time before a decision. We understand that budgets are tight and very tough decisions are to be made, so we stand ready to work with them if they’d just include us in the process.”