What is FLASH?
FLASH is the name of Montgomery County’s new bus-based rapid transit system. FLASH is a bus-based rapid transit system with features that improve reliability and capacity, so you can get where you need to go quickly. There are several things that distinguish FLASH from other bus services:
- Stations: Well-lit, with covered seating areas and real-time information screens, providing a more comfortable and predictable wait. FLASH stations feature raised platforms to allow for level boarding, which makes boarding faster and easier for riders with disabilities, bicycles, or strollers.
- Off-Board Fare Payment: Riders can either tap their farecard at station kiosks or purchase a ticket for the ride (using cash or other payment options) before they board the bus. This eliminates the need to wait for other riders to pay their fare on the bus and allows for faster boarding, meaning FLASH spends less time waiting at stops.
- All-Door Boarding: Because passengers don’t have to pay their fare on the bus, passengers can board the bus from any door, which also helps speed the boarding process.
- Transit Signal Priority (TSP): This allows FLASH to communicate with traffic lights. In some cases, such as when a bus is running behind schedule, TSP can adjust signal timing to allow the traffic light to stay green for a few extra seconds, enabling the bus to get through the intersection and regain some lost time.
- Unique Branding: FLASH looks and feels different from local buses, with a different vehicle design and color scheme. This lets riders easily tell the difference between the enhanced service and the local service.
- Frequent, reliable service: FLASH service will be more frequent than the local bus service along the corridor, and will run on a “headway schedule,” which is based on the frequency of arrivals (e.g. a bus arriving every 10 minutes), rather than a timetable schedule. Headway schedules focus more heavily on the spacing between vehicles and less on the specific minute the bus should arrive, making service more reliable. Riders will not have to check bus schedules before going to the bus station, because they know they will never have to wait long for FLASH to arrive.
- Dedicated lanes: FLASH may run in dedicated lanes, where feasible. Dedicated lanes reduce interactions with between vehicles, allowing the FLASH to travel more quickly and reliably along its route even when the other lanes are congested.
When will it open?
FLASH will start service on the US 29 (Colesville Road) corridor in 2020.
How much will it cost to ride?
FLASH will cost the same as the local bus.
How will I pay my fare?
Riders can either tap their SmarTrip card at station kiosks or purchase a ticket for the ride (using cash or other payment options) before they board the bus. This eliminates the need to wait for other riders to pay their fare on the bus and allows for faster boarding, meaning FLASH spends less time waiting at stops.
What type of vehicles will FLASH use?
FLASH will feature large, articulated buses with low floors, three sets of extra-wide door, storage for bikes on board, and other amenities like USB plugs and Wifi.
The initial FLASH vehicles will run on clean diesel. Due to the current state of technology for all-electric articulated buses, MCDOT determined this option was not yet mature enough to consider. MCDOT will continue to monitor the improvements being made regarding energy sources for articulated buses and revisit this decision during the next purchase of FLASH vehicles.
What makes FLASH different from other upgraded bus services?
Upgraded local bus services, like Ride On extRa and MetroExtra, stop less frequently than local buses and (in some cases employ) TSP, but they lack many of the other features that FLASH will provide to make trips quicker and more enjoyable, such as off-board fare collection, level boarding, upgraded stations, and additional amenities.
Who will benefit from FLASH?
FLASH will serve local residents, commuters, students, and transit users who want cost-effective, quick, comfortable, more frequent transport to destinations around the county.
FLASH will provide a faster, more reliable, more comfortable transit experience. The benefits of FLASH can be summarized by the “3 R’s”:
Rapid: Features like limited stops, off-board fare collection, level-boarding through all doors, and dedicated FLASH lanes (where feasible) make for a faster ride.
Reliable: You won’t wait long and you’ll see real-time travel information on message boards at the station so you know exactly when the next FLASH arrives.
Relaxing: Avoid the stress associated with driving: use Wi-Fi on-board to be more productive, read a book, or simply use the time to rest.
Why do we need FLASH?
FLASH makes it possible to move more people on the existing road network. Each FLASH vehicle can take as many as 90 cars off the road and move more people per lane than cars. That makes our transportation network more efficient.
Montgomery County must look for ways to address traffic congestion as the area continues to grow. We are already experiencing all of the problems that come with too many cars on our roads. And it’s only going to get worse because congestion is predicted to increase 70 percent by 2040.
Who is funding FLASH?
Montgomery County is pursuing multiple sources of funding, including State and Federal funding. In 2016, Montgomery County was awarded a $10 million federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant toward the US 29 project by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The TIGER grant supports efforts to get the US 29 corridor up and running by 2020.
How much will FLASH cost to build?
The cost of FLASH depends on how and where it is implemented. The total cost of building the US 29 FLASH is $39.1 million. Projects with more infrastructure, like dedicated lanes, will cost significantly more. For most of the FLASH projects, it’s too early to tell how much it will cost. To accurately estimate the cost of any project, a certain amount of design and engineering work needs to take place. Often up to 30 percent of the project needs to be engineered in order to be able to make a realistic cost projection.
Where are the FLASH routes located?
FLASH will start service on US 29 (Colesville Road) between Burtonsville to Silver Spring in 2020.
Corridors under active planning include:
Additional corridors are planned for other parts of the county, as noted in the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.
How will the off-board payment system be enforced?
There are a variety of methods transit agencies have at their disposal to provide fare enforcement. As the County’s first FLASH line moves closer to opening, the specifics of how this occurs are being addressed. Generally, there will be random checks of fare payment on board FLASH vehicles by fare inspectors. Those found to have not paid a fare will be in violation and will receive an appropriate citation.
Is this related to the Purple Line?
FLASH is not directly related to the Purple Line, but they are both new, reliable modes of transportation coming to Montgomery County. The Purple Line is a light rail system with modern streetcars, powered by overhead electrical wires, operating on tracks operate mainly in dedicated or exclusive lanes. Different modes of transportation are suitable for different purposes, and together make it possible to build a robust transportation network.
What other cities have BRT?
Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems have been in existence internationally for several decades, particularly in South America. In the United States, they are a newer development. Cities that have implemented BRT include Boston’s Silver Line; Cleveland’s Health Line; Denver’s 16th Street Mall service; Los Angeles’ Metro Rapid service; Eugene, Oregon’s EmX; Albany, New York’s BusPlus; Chicago’s Pace; Aspen, Colorado’s Veloci; and most recently Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia’s Metroway. Other examples can be found in Las Vegas; Oakland, San Bernardino, and Santa Clara, California; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas; New Orleans; Detroit; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New York City; and Kansas City. There are other small and large cities operating rapid transit systems in the US. It is a transportation mode that is growing in acceptance and popularity. Read about some BRT success stories.
What is a Corridor Advisory Committee (CAC)?
Corridor Advisory Committees have been formed by the County to provide feedback and input into the design and implementation of each proposed Bus Rapid Transit corridor. They comment on issues such as the project’s “Purpose and Need” documentation, station locations, and pedestrian and bicycle access. Committees include neighbors, business owners and other interested residents, such as frequent transit riders.
What is Transit Signal Priority (TSP)?
Transit Signal Priority (TSP) is a technology that will allow FLASH vehicles to communicate with the traffic signals along the FLASH corridors. TSP can help BRT vehicles move more quickly through the corridor and increase transit reliability via two methods:
- EXTENDED GREEN: When a FLASH vehicle is approaching a green signal that is about to turn yellow, the signal’s green phase may be extended by a few seconds to allow the vehicle to get through the intersection.
- EARLY GREEN: Likewise, a FLASH approaching a red signal that is about to turn green may request that the signal turn green slightly early so that the vehicle can get through the intersection.
Implementation of TSP does not require major construction. The technology on the vehicles will be installed before they are put into service, and the technology at the roadway intersections is installed in existing traffic signal cabinets.