How did you get to work this morning? A lot of you probably drove, as I did. Some of you may have walked or biked, taking advantage of the beautiful weather we've had this week. And a number of you, I suspect, took the bus. Perhaps you bused to West Falls Church to catch the Metro into DC. Or maybe you took a bus directly to, say, the Pentagon or Crystal City.
You may not realize it, but if you take one of Reston's commuter buses, you have RCA to thank for it. Back in its early days, RCA led the way in helping our citizens make their way to work.
I've talked before about the pioneer generation of Restonians who built our community into what it is today. But for those of you who are newer residents, you may not realize that when I say they "built" Reston, I mean it literally. In the late 1960s and into the 70s, our beloved community was largely hypothetical. Most of the services and institutions we take for granted today did not exist then. We had Lake Anne, and we had Hunters Woods, and we had a few housing developments around them. But for most everything else, we were on our own.
Those pioneer Restonians quickly realized that if they wanted something, they'd have to create it themselves. RCA sprung up into that void, and aimed to help the community create what it needed. And one of the things Reston needed was a bus service.
Some Restonians were fulfilling Bob Simon's vision of "living, working, and playing" in Reston. But then as now, plenty of our citizens lived here and worked elsewhere. And if you were a Restonian in the late '60s who worked in DC, for example, your options for getting to work were pretty much limited to driving. Metrorail didn't exist yet, and there were no buses running out to our sylvan outpost.
Those pioneer Restonians wanted a bus line. And so RCA stepped up and created one.
In 1967, the brand-new RCA formed a Transportation Committee, chaired by Karl Ingebritsen, to examine the feasibility of creating a bus service based in Reston. The committee started out by performing a survey of every household in Reston, in order to figure out how many commuters there were and where they were headed. The committee used the results of the survey to figure out the proposed routes for its bus lines. The committee chartered a bus company, Virginia Bus Lines, to provide the hardware. And in March 1968, the Reston Commuter Bus service was born. The first routes went from Reston to DC; soon, lines were added that went to the Pentagon, Arlington, and National Airport.
I want to pause at this point and note what a tremendous achievement this was. A group of volunteers, people who all had day jobs, were operating a bus service. They drew up timetables, planned routes, managed the agreement with the bus line, collected and accounted for the fares, promoted the bus service, and evaluated the service and looked for improvements.
The time and commitment necessary to undertake such a task are awe-inspiring. But the committee members gave freely of their time, under the logic that has animated many of RCA's projects over the years: If we don't do it, who will?
I would also note that the RCB service was a purely citizen-run operation. It was launched and carried out with no operational or financial support from the government, either local or national. (Although not for lack of trying on RCA's part.)
These volunteers had nothing to fall back on but their own efforts. It must have been a trying experience, especially at first, when the ridership numbers were falling below the break-even point. But RCA and the Transportation Committee decided to press on, because they believed in the commuter bus project and were determined to see it through.
And happily, for them and for Reston as a whole, the project succeeded. Many longtime Restonians remember the RCB fondly. The bus service was most famous for a delightful amenity: they provided coffee and donuts on the morning bus runs, and cocktails on the afternoon runs. (Try finding that on the Fairfax Connector today!) The service began to turn a profit within the first year of operations, and continued to serve hundreds of riders a day for years thereafter.
As you probably know by now, RCA is not in the bus business any more. Metrobus service eventually made its way out to Reston, and it was eventually supplanted by the Fairfax Connector service that exists today. But it was RCA and its Transportation Committee that blazed the trail for commuters busing to work from Reston.
It's also worth noting that the RCA inspired a key feature of today's express bus service. In the early days of the RCB, the Transportation Committee realized that if they could gain access to the Dulles Airport freeway - no Toll Road in those days - their express bus service would be considerably faster and thus, more appealing to riders. RCA presented a proposal to the Department of Transportation, requesting access to the airport freeway for the Reston express buses. The proposal was rejected. But as those of you who ride the Fairfax Connection along the Toll Road today know, the buses are now able to use the access road, yielding considerable time savings for bus riders.
Today, as we at RCA prepare to welcome Metrorail to and (hopefully) beyond Reston, we are honoring the spirit of our original Transportation Committee by seeking to improve life for Reston commuters. Our most recent paper urges the decision-makers involved in the Silver Line to seek funding solutions that will avoid creating excessive toll hikes on the Toll Road, and thus avoid diverting thousands of additional cars onto Reston's surface streets. Just as the RCB reduced traffic on DC-area roads in the '60s, we're trying to avoiding worsening traffic in and around Reston today.
I hope you enjoyed our latest trip down Memory Lane. Were you a former RCB rider? Do you have any stories to share? If so, I'd love to read them in the comments.