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Getting on the Big Bus, an Alternative Commute

Tourists wait for the Big Bus to depart Union Station. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Tourists wait for the Big Bus to depart Union Station. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Where Roll Call Dares Logo(Thumbnail) There are worse ways to get around Washington than riding the Big Bus.  

Poncho-frocked tourists typically are the only ones trekking about on D.C.’s double-deckered tour buses. Frazzled locals, meanwhile, cram into rising-fare Metro trains that come with the added excitement of death by smoke inhalation, multiple stabbing wounds, derailment or the banality of chronic delays and overcrowded discomfort. “Almost every time I take @wmata on the weekend I regret it,” a friend groused on Facebook. His post likely broke the “like” button.  

Using taxis, Uber or Lyft is no panacea. How about a route from Georgetown to Dupont Circle via Anacostia? Or at the very least a healthy disagreement with the driver as to why his intelligent device’s GPS is providing a provocative, yet unfounded shortcut.  

Bicycle? Good luck with construction.  

Walk? Good luck finding a sidewalk.  

Perhaps a rethinking is in order.  

Enter the Big Bus. What other mode of transit reliably comes with an open-air seating option? Or shows up on time every 20 minutes at one of four (four!) routes: Red, blue, yellow and green, which traverse not just D.C.’s monument and museum row but downtown and through swaths of upper Northwest? Cross-fading youngsters en route to the National Zoo can add an extra stimulation dimension to their leisure time by dodging low-lying branches on tree-lined avenues en route to the home of the Panda cam. All this and free admission to Madame Tussauds wax museum  to boot.  

Forty-nine dollars gets one a day’s worth of transport  at least from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One may pay extra for a night tour or two days’ worth of riding privileges, which along with Madame Tussauds privileges comes with a Potomac River cruise, weather permitting.  

In addition to boiler-plate commentary about the Smithsonian, some tour guides even provide a bit of local flavor. One day after a security officer at Union Station shot and killed a male suspect who had stabbed a woman not too far from where travelers load onto the Big Bus, one tour guide explained why the incident prompted so much attention. “Normally this happens every three days, but yesterday was 9/11,” he said.  

Y’all come back now, y’hear?  

The automated tour narration (earbuds provided) comes with less impromptu conversation, but Sousa marches fill the dead time. And where else might one learn the interesting yet false assertion about the Washington Monument that “Many Washingtonians refer to it simply as ‘The Pencil.'”  

What else might Washingtonians learn if they were less concerned with making eye contact with a panhandler in between Metro stops or wondering why a taxi driver is yelling somewhat manically into his cellphone. Big Bus takes its time.  

Plus, there are the ponchos. “Sorry it’s Raining!” says a note to passengers that accompanies the svelte and gratis slickers.  

“Dear Customer, Sorry that it’s raining on you. We hope you continue to enjoy your sightseeing experience and that the rain stops soon. Please feel free to keep this poncho for your future use and a memento of your day. Best Wishes. The Big Bus Team,” the cheery missive continues.  

Take that, Uber X.


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