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Will Alexandria Put its Transit Shop on the Road?

With fare media changing and job centers in the city on the move, Alexandria City Council questions whether the Old Town Transit Shop is the best way to reach commuters.

Sales are down but visits are up at the Old Town Transit Shop. (Photo credit: Drew Hansen)
Sales are down but visits are up at the Old Town Transit Shop. (Photo credit: Drew Hansen)

Sitting on a lonely stretch of Diagonal Road just south of the King Street-Old Town Metro station, the Old Town Transit Shop sells transit passes and SmarTrip Cards. Staff is on hand to answer questions and offer directions, while the city uses it as the front door of its Local Motion programs.  

But with the ways people purchase fare media changing along with job centers in the city on the move, members of Alexandria City Council questioned the shop’s effectiveness Tuesday when considering the proposed use of allocated federal transportation funds.

Specifically, Councilmen Justin Wilson and Paul Smedberg said they wanted to move away from a brick-and-mortar operation and take the transit shop on the road with a mobile facility similar to others in the region. Arlington County’s Mobile Commuter Store schedules stops during the work week in several locations in and outside the county, including at the Mark Center in Alexandria.

“I think our dollars would be better spent focusing on the mobile side of things,” Smedberg said. “Even if you had someone [at the transit shop] who was coordinating these activities, do we still need a brick-and-mortar separate facility to do that? I think there are more efficient ways to do it. … The last couple budgets, people are questioning the value of this.”

The Old Town Transit Shop costs about $300,000 a year in both rent and operational expenditures. Sandra Marks, an acting deputy director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said sales at the shop are down but visits are up. She said it’s an important location for information about ridesharing and other programs.

Mayor Bill Euille applauded the consideration of different approaches to transit fare sales and the distribution of information but said the cost savings of moving to a mobile facility “may not be at the magnitude folks may be envisioning.”

Smedberg, a vice chair on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and chairman of the Virginia Railway Express Board, said it wasn’t necessarily all about savings.

“It’s about how the consumers and our residents may best access [these programs], and make these programs visible to the people who should be using them,” he said.

Councilman John Chapman suggested locating the transit shop services in libraries, recreation centers and bicycle shops. That would reach some of the citizenry, but would be less likely to reach those who commute into the city from elsewhere for work.

Rich Baier, director of T&ES, said he would bring the idea of pursuing a mobile facility to the Alexandria Transit Company board.

Jonathan Krall September 27, 2013 at 11:14 AM
Perhaps we should apply a little regionalism here. Arlington has a world-class program to market transit solutions and coax people out of their cars. Rather than pay our own staff to re-invent the wheel, we could contract out some of this marketing work. We might get some economies of scale.

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