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The Celebration DASH Bus was decorated with handprints from students in the art programs at Alexandria Country Day School and T.C. Williams High School. (AFRO/Photo by Shantella Sherman)

As gentrification moves many from Washington, D.C. to Maryland and Virginia, shuttle services from the city to the suburbs have become increasingly important, particularly in Northern Virginia, where subway lines strategically snake major thoroughfares, mass transit riders used to face an uphill battle navigating neighborhoods. As the Alexandria Transit Co. continues its Dash Bus System’s 31st anniversary celebrations, marked changes can be found in meeting demands, and reaching new riders.

Tamika Silver knew the instant Dash turned 30, when the No. 5 bus she rode daily to a job in Landmark Mall arrived colorfully painted and announcing their achievements. The mother of two is among the nearly 4 million riders using the system each year.

“A lot of times when you leave D.C. and travel into other regions around the area it is confusing, and I think it keeps a lot of young Black people from looking for jobs or housing out here,” Silver said. “It struck me one day, though, that all of this rush hour coming into the city for work, which meant they were leaving plenty of work in their own neighborhoods for me. This bus system made it simpler for me to get to a job I love.”

The Alexandria Transit Co. (ATC) celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Dash bus system throughout 2014, including a major media campaign that recently won the Virginia Transit Association’s Outstanding Public Transportation Marketing Award. Alexandria’s Dash system was presented with the award for its “DASHing for 30 years: Past, Present and Future” marketing and outreach efforts in association with DASH’s 30th anniversary milestone. The campaign included monthly activities that engaged the customers through social media and on-board promotions and the creation of the DASH 30th Anniversary video and the Celebration DASH Bus.

ATC partnered with school art programs at Alexandria Country Day School and T.C. Williams High School to paint and have students leave their handprint on one of ATC’s retiring bus models. The Celebration DASH Bus has since traveled around Alexandria and has been seen at transit fairs, community and school outreach, and education programs.

The brainchild of then-Alexandria Mayor Charles Beatley, Dash was promoted and championed as a customer-friendly and responsive bus service. The system started with 17 buses on four routes with 30 employees, and carried a little over 900,000 passengers in its first full year of service.

ATC General Manager Sandy Modell cites Dash’s back-to-basics approach as the reason for the system’s success over the years.

“Clean and well-maintained buses, friendly and courteous drivers, and a community-oriented service has been the recipe for our success,” Modell stated. “We have been very fortunate to hire and retain dedicated employees who understand the importance of excellent customer service and in providing Alexandria with high-quality transit service.”

In recent years, the ATC Board of Directors has approved several enhancements, including the addition of the first low-floor hybrid electric Dash buses, 20 low-floor hybrid buses, and five hybrid-powered trolleys to their fleet. These vehicles feature low-floor entry with no steps, which improves accessibility for persons with disabilities and senior citizens, and increases the overall efficiency and safety of passengers when boarding and alighting. ATC also added new 40-foot buses to accommodate the increased ridership on several routes, including the ATC Duke Street route.