Maryland’s First Bus Rapid Transit Service Opens

A row of Flash buses, part of Montgomery County’s new BRT system, outside the East County Community Center in Silver Spring on Wednesday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

In launching Flash, a new bus service, along the congested Route 29 corridor on Wednesday, Montgomery County officials pledged the line would open job and educational opportunities to residents of the diverse eastern portion of Maryland’s largest subdivision.

They also made history. Flash is Maryland’s first Bus Rapid Transit service.

Most BRT systems have their own lanes. Flash will utilize the shoulder lanes northbound and southbound between Tech Road and Burtonsville, allowing the brightly-colored buses to glide past cars, trucks and Metrobuses.

“Dedicated lanes are really key to the reliability, so that you can expect the same type of trip every day,” said Chris Conklin, the county’s transportation director. “When we’re in mixed traffic, we’re subject to the vagaries of whatever’s happening on the road.”

County leaders thanked the Maryland Department of Transportation for widening and improving the shoulders along the route to make the new service possible.

The U.S. 29 corridor is the busiest in a county that suffers from some of the worst traffic in the nation. Flash will serve a 14-mile stretch of Colesville Road between Burtonsville and the Silver Spring Metro station.

In an effort to make the service more convenient, passengers will pay their fare at the bus stop, three doors will open at each location, and Flash will have traffic signal priority at intersections.

“These people have the worst commutes in the county,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D). “They deserve the same kind of transit that we’ve provided other people in the county. And I thought it should be important that we prioritize this corridor because these people deserve to be able to get to work in less than two hours.”

The eastern portion of Montgomery is less affluent and more diverse than the down-county and the areas along and west of Interstate 270. Residents have long complained that they are an after-thought for county leaders, who are based in Rockville.

Flash will run from 5 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Buses will come every seven minutes during rush hour; and no less than once every 15 minutes during other parts of the day.

The Flash buses in Montgomery County will have their own dedicated stops. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

The accordion-style, clean diesel buses, which can handle 80 passengers each, have WiFi and USB charging ports. They also have their own bus stops, which will allow passengers to board and depart without having to climb stairs.

A federal grant funded 25% of the project.

Officials said they are already looking to bring BRT service to the Veirs Mill Road and MD 355 corridors.

Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D) said the line will give residents more access to job opportunities and will lead to reductions in traffic and pollution.

Discussions with Howard County officials about extending Flash toward Columbia are underway.

“The big-picture plan is an interconnected network of BRT lines that serve the major north-south corridors and also provide east-west connectivity,” said Conklin. “The way to entice people is travel time savings, advantage, reliability. Those are the main keys.”

It’s clear that leaders in other parts of the state will be watching Montgomery County’s foray into BRT.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said he thinks it would be a good fit for the Route 5/301 corridor in Southern Maryland and along MD 210.
“I look forward to the success of Flash and hope to emulate it for my constituents,” he said. “It is something desperately needed in Southern Maryland as well.”

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.