By Dave Sutton
I’ve always wondered why people ride the Bethesda Circulator.
My interest has piqued since the closing of the large public parking lot at the Bethesda intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues. That parking lot meant a lot to me—as I’m sure it did to countless others. Specifically, it meant the ability to slip somewhat painlessly into Bethesda Row, run an errand, and depart unscathed in terms of stress. Now, the parking situation is more challenging than ever.
Since getting around Bethesda has become even trickier, it’s useful to know how and why folks use the Bethesda Circulator.
The Bethesda Circulator is free and runs on an “every-10-minutes” schedule in a figure-eight pattern with the Bethesda Metro station at its twice-visited-per-loop center. Bethesda Avenue (a portion of Bethesda Row) is the route’s southern border and the intersection of Rugby and Woodmont Avenues the northern margin. To view an online map of the route, go to www.bethesda.org/parking/BethesdaCirculator.pdf
The Bethesda Circulator is managed by Bethesda Urban Partnership and operated by RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation. The red buses connect with eight public parking garages (marked by a blue “P”) and run from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday; and 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday. During rush hour there are three Bethesda Circulator buses en route and two during off-peak hours.
What I wanted to know was why people are using the buses. So, I went for a ride.
The 20 Bethesda Circulator stops are well-identified with a distinctive logo. I picked the bus up in front of Barnes & Noble, at the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues.
It was a hot day and inside the comfy new bus the air conditioning was humming. “More people have been using the bus since the heat began,” said Flor Servat, a driver for RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation. RMA estimates ridership is 26,000 per month.
Shana Marshall was commuting home from work at George Washington University downtown. She picked up the Circulator at Bethesda Metro and rode it to the route’s northwest corner of Old Georgetown Road and Auburn Avenue. “If I walked this route before and after work today I’d be a hot sweaty mess,” she said, noting her office clothing. “A lot of working people use the bus anytime there’s inclement weather: heat, snow or rain.”
Marshall also makes use of the Bethesda Circulator when friends come to town. “It’s a great way to give people an overview of Bethesda—all the shops and stores,” she added.
Qomar Hussain was riding the bus down to the shops at Bethesda Row. A server between shifts at Black’s Bar & Kitchen, Hussain said the Circulator is both convenient and safe. “Sometimes on my break I walk around thinking about something or talking on the phone and there are just so many chances of getting hit by a car while walking in this busy area.”
Sure enough, people with limited mobility—such as an older gentleman rider I spoke with—appreciate the convenience and assistance of the Circulator.
Tourists love the Bethesda Circulator, said RMA driver Flor Servat. “There are so many hotels in the area—I constantly meet tourists from different states and countries riding the bus and taking in the city.”
Families with children also love the Bethesda Circulator, Servat added, especially on holidays and in the summertime.
The Bethesda Circulator is perfect for running errands, said RMA driver Aris Arangoria. “Many people who live in the area will ride to the grocery stores on the route so they can easily ferry their groceries home,” said Arangoria.
I plan to incorporate the Bethesda Circulator into my about-Bethesda routine. But first: I must find somewhere new to park my car.