Metrobus resumes full service after month-long route reduction

As Omicron wave eases, bus drivers are returning to work

Metrobus resumes full service after month-long route reduction

A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus stops to pick up passengers.

Metrobus returned to full service on Monday for the first time in nearly a month, after pandemic-related staffing shortages forced the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to scale back or cancel its bus service on dozens of routes.

Buses had been running at about 75 percent of normal operations since Jan. 10, with most routes operating on a Saturday schedule throughout the week. But as coronavirus cases among Metrobus staff declined along with regional and national cases, enough drivers are now available to serve the transit authority’s full 187-route network. 

The virus has “impacted about 10 percent of our workforce since the holidays,” WMATA CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said in the Jan. 27 press release announcing the return to service. 

WMATA also announced last week an incentives program to hire at least 70 new bus drivers to meet current demand, including a $1,000 signing bonus and an additional $1,500 bonus upon completion of training. 

This return to full service comes as ridership on Metrobus and Metrorail is on the rise following a sharp decline during the Omicron surge, according to data from WMATA.

The return to service will shorten commute times for American University students who take the bus to campus or elsewhere in the city. 

“The buses are usually easier than taking the Metrorail,” said School of International Service freshman Mei Scarlett. “As I’m trying to figure out the most efficient way to get around, I’ll probably look for bus routes rather than the train.”

Last month’s cuts came at an already fraught moment for WMATA.

Metrorail is operating on a reduced schedule as an investigation into an Oct. 12 derailment drags on and keeps the subway system’s newer 7000-series trains, about 60 percent of its total fleet, out of service indefinitely. Additionally, a widespread U-Pass outage at the start of the semester caused confusion about how AU students could access public transportation.

Still, potential bright spots are on the horizon for WMATA, with the pandemic surge easing and more people once again commuting to school and work. 

Though regular service has resumed, some routes may still see periodic delays “based on employee availability each day,” the press release said. But officials hope the hiring surge will mitigate disruptions for commuters.

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