What is FLASH?

FLASH is the name of Montgomery County’s new bus-based rapid transit system. FLASH is a bus-based rapid transit system with features that improve reliability and capacity, so you can get where you need to go quickly.  There are several things that distinguish FLASH from other bus services:

  • Stations: Well-lit, with covered seating areas and real-time information screens, providing a more comfortable and predictable wait. FLASH stations feature raised platforms to allow for level boarding, which makes boarding faster and easier for riders with disabilities, bicycles, or strollers.
  • Off-Board Fare Payment: Riders can either tap their farecard at station kiosks or purchase a ticket for the ride (using cash or other payment options) before they board the bus. This eliminates the need to wait for other riders to pay their fare on the bus and allows for faster boarding, meaning FLASH spends less time waiting at stops.
  • All-Door Boarding: Because passengers don’t have to pay their fare on the bus, passengers can board the bus from any door, which also helps speed the boarding process.
  • Transit Signal Priority (TSP): This allows FLASH to communicate with traffic lights. In some cases, such as when a bus is running behind schedule, TSP can adjust signal timing to allow the traffic light to stay green for a few extra seconds, enabling the bus to get through the intersection and regain some lost time.
  • Unique Branding: FLASH looks and feels different from local buses, with a different vehicle design and color scheme. This lets riders easily tell the difference between the enhanced service and the local service.
  • Frequent, reliable service: FLASH service will be more frequent than the local bus service along the corridor, and will run on a “headway schedule,” which is based on the frequency of arrivals (e.g. a bus arriving every 10 minutes), rather than a timetable schedule. Headway schedules focus more heavily on the spacing between vehicles and less on the specific minute the bus should arrive, making service more reliable. Riders will not have to check bus schedules before going to the bus station, because they know they will never have to wait long for FLASH to arrive.
  • Dedicated lanes: FLASH may run in dedicated lanes, where feasible. Dedicated lanes reduce interactions with between vehicles, allowing the FLASH to travel more quickly and reliably along its route even when the other lanes are congested.


When will it open?

FLASH will start service on the US 29 (Colesville Road) corridor in 2020.


How much will it cost to ride?

FLASH will cost the same as the local bus.


How will I pay my fare?

Riders can either tap their SmarTrip card at station kiosks or purchase a ticket for the ride (using cash or other payment options) before they board the bus. This eliminates the need to wait for other riders to pay their fare on the bus and allows for faster boarding, meaning FLASH spends less time waiting at stops.


What type of vehicles will FLASH use?

FLASH will feature large, articulated buses with low floors, three sets of extra-wide door, storage for bikes on board, and other amenities like USB plugs and Wifi.

The initial FLASH vehicles will run on clean diesel.  Due to the current state of technology for all-electric articulated buses, MCDOT determined this option was not yet mature enough to consider. MCDOT will continue to monitor the improvements being made regarding energy sources for articulated buses and revisit this decision during the next purchase of FLASH vehicles.


What makes FLASH different from other upgraded bus services?

Upgraded local bus services, like Ride On extRa and MetroExtra, stop less frequently than local buses and (in some cases employ) TSP, but they lack many of the other features that FLASH will provide to make trips quicker and more enjoyable, such as off-board fare collection, level boarding, upgraded stations, and additional amenities.


Who will benefit from FLASH?

FLASH will serve local residents, commuters, students, and transit users who want cost-effective, quick, comfortable, more frequent transport to destinations around the county.

FLASH will provide a faster, more reliable, more comfortable transit experience. The benefits of FLASH can be summarized by the “3 R’s”:

Rapid: Features like limited stops, off-board fare collection, level-boarding through all doors, and dedicated FLASH lanes (where feasible) make for a faster ride.

Reliable: You won’t wait long and you’ll see real-time travel information on message boards at the station so you know exactly when the next FLASH arrives.

Relaxing: Avoid the stress associated with driving: use Wi-Fi on-board to be more productive, read a book, or simply use the time to rest.


Why do we need FLASH?

FLASH makes it possible to move more people on the existing road network. Each FLASH vehicle can take as many as 90 cars off the road and move more people per lane than cars. That makes our transportation network more efficient.

Montgomery County must look for ways to address traffic congestion as the area continues to grow. We are already experiencing all of the problems that come with too many cars on our roads. And it’s only going to get worse because congestion is predicted to increase 70 percent by 2040.


Who is funding FLASH?

Montgomery County is pursuing multiple sources of funding, including State and Federal funding. In 2016, Montgomery County was awarded a $10 million federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant toward the US 29 project by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The TIGER grant supports efforts to get the US 29 corridor up and running by 2020.


How much will FLASH cost to build?

The cost of FLASH  depends on how and where it is implemented. The total cost of building the US 29 FLASH is $39.1 million. Projects with more infrastructure, like dedicated lanes, will cost significantly more. For most of the FLASH projects, it’s too early to tell how much it will cost. To accurately estimate the cost of any project, a certain amount of design and engineering work needs to take place. Often up to 30 percent of the project needs to be engineered in order to be able to make a realistic cost projection.


Where are the FLASH routes located?

FLASH will start service on US 29 (Colesville Road) between Burtonsville to Silver Spring in 2020.

Corridors under active planning include:

Additional corridors are planned for other parts of the county, as noted in the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.


How will the off-board payment system be enforced?

There are a variety of methods transit agencies have at their disposal to provide fare enforcement. As the County’s first FLASH line moves closer to opening, the specifics of how this occurs are being addressed. Generally, there will be random checks of fare payment on board FLASH vehicles by fare inspectors. Those found to have not paid a fare will be in violation and will receive an appropriate citation.


Is this related to the Purple Line?

FLASH is not directly related to the Purple Line, but they are both new, reliable modes of transportation coming to Montgomery County. The Purple Line is a light rail system with modern streetcars, powered by overhead electrical wires, operating on tracks operate mainly in dedicated or exclusive lanes.  Different modes of transportation are suitable for different purposes, and together make it possible to build a robust transportation network.


What other cities have BRT?

Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems have been in existence internationally for several decades, particularly in South America. In the United States, they are a newer development. Cities that have implemented BRT include Boston’s Silver LineCleveland’s Health LineDenver’s 16th Street Mall serviceLos Angeles’ Metro Rapid serviceEugene, Oregon’s EmXAlbany, New York’s BusPlusChicago’s PaceAspen, Colorado’s Veloci; and most recently Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia’s Metroway. Other examples can be found in Las Vegas; Oakland, San Bernardino, and Santa Clara, California; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas; New Orleans; Detroit; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New York City; and Kansas City. There are other small and large cities operating rapid transit systems in the US. It is a transportation mode that is growing in acceptance and popularity. Read about some BRT success stories.


What is a Corridor Advisory Committee (CAC)?

Corridor Advisory Committees have been formed by the County to provide feedback and input into the design and implementation of each proposed Bus Rapid Transit corridor. They comment on issues such as the project’s “Purpose and Need” documentation, station locations, and pedestrian and bicycle access. Committees include neighbors, business owners and other interested residents, such as frequent transit riders.


What is Transit Signal Priority (TSP)?

Transit Signal Priority (TSP) is a technology that will allow FLASH vehicles to communicate with the traffic signals along the FLASH corridors. TSP can help BRT vehicles move more quickly through the corridor and increase transit reliability via two methods:

  • EXTENDED GREEN: When a FLASH vehicle is approaching a green signal that is about to turn yellow, the signal’s green phase may be extended by a few seconds to allow the vehicle to get through the intersection.
  • EARLY GREEN: Likewise, a FLASH approaching a red signal that is about to turn green may request that the signal turn green slightly early so that the vehicle can get through the intersection.

Implementation of TSP does not require major construction. The technology on the vehicles will be installed before they are put into service, and the technology at the roadway intersections is installed in existing traffic signal cabinets.


When will it open?

US 29 FLASH is currently under construction. Service will start in 2020.


What are the anticipated benefits of the US 29 FLASH?

The US 29 FLASH project will provide many quantifiable benefits to one of the busiest transit corridors in the State, including:

  • Travel time savings: The more efficient operation of BRT on US 29 is expected to result in a 22-35% corridor travel time savings over current local bus service.
  • Improved reliability:  US 29 FLASH will improve reliability through use of dedicated Bus on Shoulder lanes, Transit Signal Priority (TSP), and more efficient operations (level multiple-door vehicle boarding, limited stops, off-board fare collection).
  • Attracting new riders and providing better service for existing riders: US 29 FLASH is projected to have 13,000 daily boardings in 2020 and 20,000 daily boardings in 2040.
  • Economic Benefits: US 29 FLASH will help support an estimated to result in $269-520 million in economic net benefit.
  • Accessibility: US 29 FLASH will increase regional connections and access to a fast-growing jobs corridor, and improve transit access and mobility along the corridor.
  • Efficiency: An element of the US 29 FLASH project will be to examine local service along and around the corridor for operational efficiency improvements, potentially increasing the level of transit service to surrounding communities.


Will the US 29 FLASH extend into Howard County?

Both Montgomery and Howard Counties are committed to ultimately making the US 29 FLASH a bi-county service, and county staff are working together on design and service elements so that our efforts remain coordinated.


What is the cost of implementing the US 29 FLASH?

The implementation (capital) cost for the US 29 FLASH project is  $39.1 million, $10 million of which will be paid by the Federal government as part of a Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. The elements of the project and their respective estimated costs are shown in the table below.


What public outreach has been done for US 29 FLASH project?

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) has been strongly committed to informing, educating, and receiving input from the public about the US 29 FLASH project. There were a variety of ways for interested parties to engage in the process and for the project team to receive input to the planning and design of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on US 29. Engagement opportunities included community open houses; an online survey and feedback form; attendance at neighborhood festivals, community events, and transit centers; and presentations at community and business association meetings. Open houses and opportunities for online engagement were promoted through mailings and online advertisements on both traditional media and social media sites. Learn more about the community engagement efforts and see the 2017 outreach summary report here.

MD 355 FAQ

What is the status of the MD 355 FLASH Project?

In Phase 2, the County is studying alternatives for the MD 355 BRT, which include different options for which route it should take, whether and where the BRT should run in a dedicated median or curb lane or in mixed traffic, and which station locations the BRT should serve. The study will evaluate the alternatives based on factors such as time savings, pedestrian and bicycle connections, environmental and property impacts, economic benefits and support for existing and planned development, and costs (as well as others). The results from the evaluation will inform identification, in 2019, of a single Recommended Alternative that can be advanced toward phased design and implementation.   Learn more here.


When will MD 355 FLASH service start?

The service start date will depend on the alternative that is identified in this phase of the project and will be subject to available funding. If funding is made available, the project will proceed after this phase into design and environmental review. Implementation will be phased, meaning that the BRT will be constructed in segments. Phasing decisions will be based on several factors, including demand for service at different locations along the corridor.


How much will it cost to implement FLASH on MD 355?

The cost of the project is highly dependent upon which alternative is selected. Although generally cheaper than light rail in terms of both construction and operating costs, the cost of BRT construction can range — from under $1 million per mile to $30 million or more per mile. In general, having dedicated lanes is more costly than having the BRT run in mixed traffic. The cost of land along the MD 355 corridor is relatively high, so if any property acquisitions are required, this will further increase the total project cost. Conceptual cost estimates will be completed as part of this project phase.


Where will the funding come from?

MCDOT anticipates that funding for the project will come from a combination of federal, state, local, and/or private sources.


RELIABLE Frequent service, dedicated lanes, and green light priority signaling keep FLASH vehicles moving.

EFFICIENT One FLASH vehicle can take up to 90 cars off the road, making our transportation network more efficient and your commute easier.

CLEAN FLASH reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions, making our air cleaner.

COMFORTABLE New FLASH stations will feature real-time travel info and provide a place for you to wait comfortably and pay your fare before boarding.

COST-EFFECTIVE You can save money by riding FLASH instead of driving a car.