Commuting Options between Columbia and DC
Commuting from Columbia to DC using transit takes 1 to 1.5 hours door-to-door, depending on timing and method of transit. Many Howard County residents do this commute regularly, including myself. I think living in an awesome place like Columbia makes the sacrifice of the long commute worth it, especially If you have flexible hours and you can work a hybrid schedule that enables you to frequently work-from-home.
Here is a breakdown of the commuting options.
1. Commuter Bus MTA Commuter Buses, operated by Dillion Bus services, operate routes from Howard County to DC, Silver Spring, Baltimore, and Bethesda. Two of the DC routes - #335 (originating in Clarksville) and #345 (originating in Ellicott City and making several spots in Columbia) both make a final local pick-up at the Broken Land Parkway Park & Ride, and then take 95S/495/295S to Independence Ave, L'Enfant Plaza, then north up 18th St NW. Other commuter bus routes take US-29S to Silver Spring then 16th ST NW south into Downtown DC. In the morning, the #335 and #345 buses depart Broken Land Parkway every 10 to 15 minutes between 5:20 AM and 7:40 AM. Buses return from DC between 2:45 PM and 5:30 PM. COST: $6 each way. PROS: Comfortable uncrowded coach buses with frequent service. The bus #335 and #345 buses travel directly from Broken Land Parkway to L'Enfant Plaza without stopping. Ideal if you have a flexible work schedule that allows you to arrive and depart early, so you can avoid being on the road in DC traffic during the busiest commuting times. Parking at Broken Land Parkway Park & Ride is free. I think it's the easiest and most pleasant way to get into DC in the mornings while you sit-back with a podcast and coffee. CONS: While the early morning buses could be as fast as 40 minutes commute from BLP P&R to L'Enfant Plaza, the ride takes progressively longer with each departure as the morning goes on. The return trip is often a trek through heavy afternoon DC traffic that often takes well over an hour.
2. MARC Train The Savage MARC station on the CAMDEN line (that runs between Baltimore Camden Station and DC Union Station) is the closest MARC station to Columbia. It a ~15 minutes drive to the station from Columbia. There are 6 southbound trains to DC each morning (earliest is 5:24 AM; latest is 8:31 AM) and 7 return trains each afternoon (3:30 PM is the first, 7:45 PM is the last) . Departures are 30 to 60 minutes apart. The train ride itself between Savage and DC takes ~40 minutes in the morning and the return trip is only about ~30 minutes in the afternoon. Once at Union Station, you can walk, metro, bikeshare, or Uber/Lyft/Taxi to your final destination. I use bikeshare. COST: $7 each way. PROS: The afternoon trains bypass DC traffic and almost always depart Union Station on schedule, making for the quickest return trip home out of any of the options. Parking at the Savage MARC station is free. CONS: It requires a drive, train, and transit from Union Station to your final DC destination, so it's certainly the most "active" of the options. Trains are scheduled 30 to 60 minutes apart, so you have a long wait for the next train if you miss one. While the afternoon trains seem to operate on schedule, the morning trains frequently operate on a 5 to 10 minutes delay, so you may find yourself waiting on the platform for the train, especially unpleasant on cold winter mornings. Incidentally, the Annapolis Junction Town Center development was recently built next to Savage MARC. There is a small retail strip that includes my ultimate trifecta of favorite retail establishments - coffee, sandwich, beer. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner!
3. METRO Take Metro. Drive to Greenbelt Metro Station (Greenline) or Glenmont Metro Station (Redline), park your car, and take metro the rest of the way in. The drive from Columbia to Greenbelt or Glenmont is ~30 minutes and the metro ride from Greenbelt to L'Enfant Plaza is another ~30 minutes. COST: $5 each way on Metro. $5 to park at Metro each day. PROS: Most frequent service. Metro trains leave every ~5 minutes during commuting hours and operate late. Provides most flexibility, especially when you are working late or staying in DC after work. CONS: Furthest drive from Columbia compared to other options. Metro trains are more crowded and less comfortable than MARC trains and commuter buses. Personally, I like to alternate between all 3 of these options based on my schedule for that day and to avoid monotony, but my preference is MARC train as I generally prioritize having the fastest commute home. It is unfortunate that all of these options rely on your own vehicle for some part of your commute (unless you happen to live close enough to one of the stops of the commuter buses or you add significant more time and juggle schedules to use an RTA bus to travel to the transit station).
FUTURE TRANSIT PROJECTS
While these existing transit options provide adequate commuting options, here are four local, regional or interstate transit projects that would significantly improve commuting and transit within Columbia and the entire region. 1. Add a new shared-use path to connect the Broken Land Park and Ride to the Columbia Association Path Network. It is not possible to get to BLP Park and Ride without a vehicle despite CA paths being located so close. New paths/sidewalks would allow commuters to walk/bike to the Park and Ride. This is a potential future project for Bike Howard.
2. Add Bus-Rapid Transit (BRT) in Howard County on US-29. BRT is a bus route that uses dedicated bus lanes, pre-board fare collection, automated traffic lights at intersections, and other technologies to provide bus service that can bypass other traffic to make it comparable to the speed of light rail. Montgomery County recently added BRT (known as Flash) on US-29 between Silver Spring to Burtonsville, and there are plans to expand BRT further north on US-29 into Howard County. In able for BRT to service Columbia's city center, we would first need a transit center with BRT bus bays and a US-29 exit off US-29N into Downtown Columbia.
3. "Run-Through" of MARC Trains into Virginia via coordination with Virginia Railroad Express (VRE) to enable MARC trains to continue past Union Station to L'Enfant Plaza, Crystal City (Amazon HQ2 and future Boeing HQ), Reagan National Airport, Alexandria and other Virginia transit stops in the VRE network, and vice/versa. This is easier said than done given bottle-necks in existing infrastructure that currently prohibits running additional trains as well as incompatibility between MARC/VRE trains and stations, but the potential is huge to connect so many job centers in the DMV to transit and discussion on how to make this possible have been ongoing for years (perhaps decades?). See: A new report strengthens the case for MARC “run-through” service to Virginia by Greater Greater Washington.
4. This one's a pipe-dream that would be decades out, if best, but adding a light-rail line in Columbia that connects to the DC and/or Baltimore rail systems would be amazing. I can envision a Columbia light rail line that travels from Downtown Columbia, down the center of Broken Land Parkway and then east towards the MARC Camden line via either the medium of US-32 or the old abandoned rail tracks that used to travel this very route.