The future of the distinct red Circulator buses running up and down Wisconsin Avenue north of M Street is in question. Metro and the District Department of Transportation are taking a hard look at continuing service delays and inadequate maintenance. The agencies also seem to be playing a zero-sum game, contemplating a transfer of resources from the Georgetown route to a new one in the U Street corridor.
“I can’t tell you how vigorously I support the Circulator route as it is,” Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Joe Gibbons said in a phone interview. “The ANC passed a unanimous resolution in its support and I’ve heard nothing to the contrary from Georgetown’s D.C. councilman Jack Evans.” Gibbons’s district covers Wisconsin Avenue up to Safeway. Evans is board chair of Metro, the agency that currently oversees the Circulator’s operations (DDOT sets the routes).
The Circulator was launched in 2005 as an inexpensive (one dollar) public shuttle from major D.C. transportation hubs like Union Station to popular attractions and neighborhoods. As Georgetown does not have Metrorail service, the route to and from the neighborhood’s major commercial streets — K Street, M Street and Wisconsin Avenue — was one of the Circulator’s first. The Georgetown BID pays in $10,000 a year in return for free Wisconsin Avenue shuttle service on summer weekends.
But the Circulator has been plagued with increasing delays and a consequent loss in overall ridership since its peak in 2012. Audits in 2015 and 2016 revealed that maintenance contractor First Transit has fallen short in tending to basic wear-and-tear. On any given day, more than a third of the Circulator’s 67 buses are taken out of circulation due to maintenance issues, including broken air conditioning.
The Circulator’s operational oversight authority will be transferred from Metro to DDOT next summer. New buses are being added and RFPs for a new maintenance contractor may be issued early next year.