Tour Buses in Quandary Over Dropping Passengers at CVC

Posted April 15, 2008 at 6:41pm

The battle over the buses continues.

Appropriators on Tuesday reaffirmed their disapproval of transportation plans for the upcoming Capitol Visitor Center, which would require most tour groups to walk to the facility from the West Front or board a special public bus from Union Station.

Supporters of the plan say it works to balance the needs of security and convenience, but Members continue to argue it will force their constituents to walk too far or spend additional money to reach the $621 million facility.

“It appears to me we are making it as humanly impossible to get there as we can,” said Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

Added Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.): “My 8-year-olds have little legs, and complain after a couple blocks. … I don’t even like to walk from Union Station to here. Little kids are not going to want to walk.”

Private tour buses, with their large luggage compartments, have the potential to hide explosives and thus have been banned from the streets immediately surrounding the CVC. But that creates problems for many tour groups, who ride to Washington, D.C., on the buses and have no other means of private transportation.

The CVC transportation plan, in its current form, would allow the buses to park at Union Station, one of the few areas in the city that have spaces to accommodate them. Groups would then walk to the CVC, or board a special Circulator bus that would cost $1 and run directly to the facility, said Terrie Rouse, the CVC’s chief executive officer for visitor services.

Visitors can also get to Capitol Hill from the Capitol South Metro station, which is only two blocks from the CVC, Rouse said. And private buses still would be able to drop folks off at the Capitol’s West Front, where about 60 percent of groups are dropped off now anyway, Rouse added.

“That’s the way most people have historically come to the Hill, and I imagine that’s the way it will stay,” she said.

But Members still aren’t satisfied with the plan. Wasserman Schultz led the battle cry, telling AOC and police officials that more realistic options must be worked out.

Wasserman Schultz noted that large tour groups can reach up to 150 people — and public buses typically only hold between 30 and 40 people, which would force groups to split up to get to the visitor center.

“Logistically, this does not sound like it is going to work,” she said.

Members also do not want to force people to pay more to reach the CVC, said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “A dollar to some might not be a lot of money, but to others, it’s a lot,” Lee said.

Solutions to the transportation problem aren’t very clear.

Capitol Police could screen the private buses, which would allow them to get closer to the Capitol complex, said Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse. But enacting that policy would require “more officers, more assets, more resources,” Morse said.

Plus, he added, there really isn’t a very good place on Capitol Hill to conduct the screening process.

While the bus issue continues to be hashed out, Members said they are pleased with the CVC’s progress in recent weeks. The facility remains on track to open in November, acting Architect Stephen Ayers told the panel, and the cost is not expected to rise.

Tests of the facility’s fire- and life-safety systems also remain on schedule, and officials expect the facility will receive a certificate of occupancy by July 31, Ayers added.