Housing Complex

Union Station Ain’t Big Enough For All Those Buses

Today, the District Department of Transportation tweets, Megabus moves into Union Station's parking deck, as part of the plan to make the station into a multi-modal transportation hub. Right now, everybody fits, since the charter tour buses that also pick up and drop off passengers there are entering the winter slow season. But come spring, when the station averages some 100 buses daily, there won't be room for everyone to park while their charges eat lunch or dinner.

Where are they all going to go? The Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, which manages station operations, isn't quite sure. "This information is still under study including travel time, travel route, amenities available and neighborhood concerns," writes USRC director David Ball. "All these items will be weighed in making a decision."

Well, it's getting close to scheduling for the spring already, and tour bus operators are still in the dark. According to tour guide Tim Krepp of D.C. Like a Local, all they know is that they'll have to relocate, and that parking at a satellite location will be more than twice as expensive.

According to the D.C. Department of Planning and Economic Development, two sites are under consideration: The parking lot at RFK Stadium and the empty lot around the decaying Crummell School behind the Hechts Bulding off New York Avenue. RFK is problematic because it's further away and buses would likely have to go through residential neighborhoods, since the Capitol Police won't allow them on Independence and Constitution. And the Crummell School lot is supposed to get redeveloped soon, so parking buses there wouldn't be a great signal to the neighborhood (although the recently-issued request for offers received no responses from charter schools—zero—so it may be sitting around for a long while yet anyway as the District figures out what to do with it).

Then there's the question of whether the buses would even go to those faraway locations at all, or if they'd prefer to just drive around the city streets, spewing fumes into the neighborhood. Solve one problem, create another!


  1. #1

    Illustration = hilarious.

    Also, speaking as someone who lives and works next to Union Station, thanks for covering this and (hopefully) putting some urgency into resolving this issue.

  2. #2

    I agree with Marie. I've been enjoying your illustrations as of late. :)

  3. #3

    As a tour guide/tour manager, I simply will not patronize Union Station with the tours I have if given the choice. What will happen is all the tour guides are going to do this and eventually the word will get out to the bus and tour companies.

    A lot of the food court fast food places will go under and DC will lose jobs.

    Chasing the out of town motorcoaches out of Union Station is about charging the large intercity bus companies a lot of money to park at Union Station and making a lot of money for the station. It is certainly not about being friendly to group tours.

    No tour bus is going to go to the recommended lots if they are the ones listed in the article. There will simply be a lot more of them spewing fumes around DC.

    DC wants tourism, but it harasses the motorcoaches unmercifully. DC should provide FREE parking for motorcoaches. After all, they do want the dollars spent while the tours are here, don't they?

    By the way, to the best of my knowledge, Tim Krepp is a blogger and tour guide. He is not a bus operator.

  4. #4


    You are correct about Tim's title, I've changed it to reflect the technical definition (he pointed this out to me earlier).



  5. #5

    @Yenta: So DC should value tour groups more than it values its own residents? Moving intercity buses to Union Station makes travel a hell of a lot easier for DC's own residents, and that's why I support it completely.

    DC's responsibilities should be to its own residents, not out-of-town tourists and tour operators, who see our city as a tourist attraction, somewhere between Disneyland and Colonial Williamsburg.

  6. #6

    @Tim - I think we need a balance. The residents of DC (and I'm one of them) would like services to be better, and would like to see Tour Buses not double-parked or just meandering around the city blocks. But we would also like the revenue that tourism brings, and the jobs that it generates. So we have to find a place to put the tour buses - or stop complaining that they can't find a place to go.

    (Tour bus operators, please take note, if you want us to be polite you should be considerate in return. It's NOT ok to double park during rush hour just because it's right outside the attraction.)

  7. #7

    I have to side with commenter Tim on this one.

    I also agree with Marie and Nikki - the bus exhaust in the illustration is a masterstroke, Lydia.

    On the residential streets issue, IIRC there's an entrance to the RFK lots off of Benning Road, and you can get there just directly via H Street, which would alleviate residential concerns over that location.

  8. #8

    Is this intended as a temporary measure? What does this mean for plans to build a real bus station into the parking garage?

  9. #9

    Jobs it creates? Sorry but a third grader buying a Witness Protection program t-shirt for $2.50 is not exactly stimulating the economy. I don't buy that tour buses bring lots of disposable income to Washington.

  10. #10

    "The revenue that [tour bus] tourism brings?"

    That would be the pennies that cheap tourists who overnight in Virginia drop at the fast food outlets on the National Mall.

    (Thank goodness those places have started charging local sales tax recently.)

    I wonder how many tourist dollars are lost because the city is uglified by these faux-Christian tour buses that park illegally and idle illegally, in every season.

  11. #11

    (not the Tim commentor above, btw)

    Hmm, as a tour guide, I'd love to see parking available for my buses so they don't drive around empty when I'm not on them.

    As a DC resident, I don't see why I should have to pay for it. As other commentors noted, my groups actually contribute relatively little to the DC economy. We almost universally stay in MD and VA hotels, they buy crappy souvenirs on 10th ST and better ones from Smithsonians with no sales tax, and rarely get off the Mall. Except for Hard Rock, Buca di Beppo, and Pizzeria Uno, we aren't keeping restaurants afloat. We're not driving enough to justify a hugely expensive DC financed parking lot when any available land has better uses.

    This is a Federal responsibility, and one they are shirking (including our own Rep. Norton!). These people are American students coming to see American icons. The National Park Service, the US Capitol, White House, and Smithsonians are all Federal properties, and "welcome" visitors. But only at the door. They assume these busloads of students show up at the CVC (or wherever) and the buses magically disappear. They don't, they go back out on the streets of DC to circle endlessly about, waiting to pick us up again.

    The Federal government has a responsibility to intelligently manage these visitors, and not dump the problem on DC. In the last few years, Hains Point, Ohio Drive in Potomac Park, and now Union Station have all had their bus parking taken away. School groups aren't going away. Neither are their buses.

    However, we continue to provide free parking for cars along the Mall and Ohio Drive.

  12. #12

    And, more important, Lydia's illustrated map kicks ass. I think we can all agree on that point.

  13. #13

    Tim, so long as there is no parking garage in a central location, the buses will continue to circle. The proposed locations aren't exactly central locations. While the school groups do stay principally in the suburbs, they do spend money at the food courts--including Union Station.

    The money that they spend at the Union Station food court will be diverted to other food courts including Pentagon City in Virginia. DC will lose the sales tax on some of those meals and the food court stands in Union Station--which have always profited due to the parking available in the garage--will go under.

    To the person concerned about double parked tour buses: Do you think they would do that if there was a place they could go? The fact is that there isn't and the change in Union Station parking is going to make it worse.

    One reason groups cannot stay in DC, by the way, is, if they do (and some do), the bus has to have a place to go at night. In the past they went to the Union Station parking garage. With that facility now closed to tour buses, no tour groups will stay in DC because there will be NO PARKING for the bus if they do. So, do you want 100% of tour groups staying in Virginia and Maryland? Tell me.

  14. #14

    Yenta, I think DC will survive the loss of the Union Station food courts. Or rather, the incremental loss of tax revenue there will in no means pay for the $100+ million required to build a garage.

    And why should I, as a DC resident, pay for it? You live in Virginia, are you calling your Congressman to pay for it? Or encouraging your city or county to chip in money? This is a regional issue caused by Federal neglect. DC shouldn't be on the hook to clean it up by ourselves.

    And just about 100% of groups already stay in Virginia and Maryland. DC should focus on attracting families and single visitors, and let the 'burbs keep the school groups.

    But I agree with you about the double parking. I do it all the time. I hate it. A absolutely hate doing it. But I have no choice.

  15. #15

    I agree with Tim. This is a federal responsibility. There is plenty of curb parking available in the Mall area, it just simply needs to be converted to "Tour Buses Only". Oftentimes I will see commuter buses parked in the area, especially along Ohio Drive. Certainly they can go park someplace else while waiting to start their evening routes while leaving space for tour buses.

    As for Union Station, I bet the food court will actually be better off. First, the hop-on, hop-off tours will still stage at Union Station. Second, the tour groups will likely be replaced by inter-city bus passengers who would want something to eat before or after an hours-long bus ride. And intercity bus passengers don't all come at once during lunch. Having a steady flow of people at all hours and all year as opposed to having just a spring/summer swarm is certainly a good thing for restaurateurs.

  16. #16

    Let's get creative on temporary bus locations, there are a few lots that are closer than RFK that will be redeveloped over time, just forge a deal with the owners and park buses there for 6 or 12 months, then move onto the next location that's flat and unused.

    Here's a handful: Florida Ave Market, Washington Times Parking lots, various lots in NOMA, various lots in Eckington/Edgewood, various lots off North Cap St. Perhaps when developers see there's a revenue stream for this, a handful might incorporate some sort of motor carrier parking into an out of the way part their building as a long term revenue source.

    Also, to my knowledge, no one uses the LOVE nightclub parking lot before 8 PM, lease that out from 8 AM to 7:30 PM for motor coach use.

  17. #17

    Why is parking at RFK more expensive than Union Station? Was Union Station offering subsidized rates? Because otherwise, I can't see how a garage in the middle of the city could possibly be cheaper than a surface lot on the edge of town. Frankly, if you're pricing at market-based rates, RFK shouldn't be charging more than it costs to re-pave the lots every few years, because unless the Redskins come back that lot has way more supply than demand.

    On the merits, I think RFK would be an excellent option, because the tourists could just hop right on the Orange/Blue line, which serve most of the popular tourist destinations.

  18. #18

    Three ideas:
    1. Could the buses use 395 and the empty Southeast Freeway to get to RFK?
    2. Or heck, park on the largely unused freeway itself?
    3. I hear there's a bus garage in East Potomac Park that's empty nowadays.
    4. It doesn't make much sense to have free, first-come-first-served tourist parking in places like West Potomac Park when tour buses serve many more tourists. Performance Parking for Tourists!

  19. #19

    @Tom Veil

    The problem here is where to park empty buses that are waiting around while the tourists are taking in the sites. For the most part, large tour groups (especially students) do not use the Metro. It's easier to keep track of kids on a bus (and it's better for our sanity as Metro riders).

    As for parking rates at Union Station, I couldn't say. I imagine the rates were like they were set quite a long time ago when the development group was trying to attract tour groups. Now that the station is actually being used for its intended purpose (a transportation hub), there are many better uses for the property than a storage site for empty buses.

  20. Kingman Park Resident

    As a Kingman Park Resident....We do not want the buses parked at RFK. We have to enough to put up with.
    Stop using our community as a dumping ground!

  21. #21

    Agreed with most of the above comments. DC's fairly unique in that we have a huge number of tourists, and virtually no tourism revenue.

    If the buses want to occupy our city, they need to pay their fair share, and MPD need to aggressively ticket double-parked buses. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to a congestion charge for tourbuses to compensate for the extra wear they place on our roads, and for the fumes they dump into the air.

    Also, stacking the buses up along the mall isn't an answer either. Although I roll my eyes whenever the NCPC or C100 get worked up about visual obstructions along the mall (Telegraph Wires! Bicycles! Oh My!), I *do* think that it's unfortunate and unsightly that Jefferson and Madison Drive are both de-facto bus lots.

  22. #22

    maybe you knuckleheads forgot where you lived. dc is the federal capitol meaning it is not yours, but all of ours. dc filches enough of our money so top whining about tourist revenue and parking. if you don't like it, move to a real american city and get a job that produces rather than leeches. megabus is one of the few things in that godforsaken cesspool that makes money and provides a useful service.

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