Bus and subway ridership in metropolitan Baltimore dropped 6 percent during the first four months of this year, contributing to a "disturbing" decline since last July, transportation officials say.
"We feel it's probably attributable to the general decline in the economy in the Baltimore metropolitan area," says James O'Donnell, accounting director of the state Mass Transit Administration. "If people aren't working, they can't take as many rides on the bus."
Bus ridership fell from 29.3 million in the period from January through April of 1990 to 27.6 million during the same four months of this year, according to figures supplied by the MTA. Metro ridership dropped from 4.5 million to 4.2 million.
The MTA raised bus and rail base fares from $1 to $1.10 in March, but O'Donnell doesn't blame higher fares for the overall drop. "The decline had begun prior to the increase in fares," he says.
From July 1990 through April 1991, the first 10 months of the current budget year, MTA ridership dropped 3.2 percent compared with the same period in fiscal 1990, O'Donnell says.
"It's possible to see the ridership go up or down a few percentage points from year to year, but the trend, especially during the last few months, is disturbing," O'Donnell says.
Ridership remained fairly steady during the 1980s, he says. He will not provide ridership data from previous years because, he says, changes initiated three years ago in MTA's method of counting riders would make comparisons faulty.
Although ridership is down, farebox revenues are up 2.9 percent since last July, says Jackie Brown Moore, the MTA's communications director. She attributes much of the revenue increase to higher fares.
Still, the MTA had projected an increase of 4 to 5 percent in farebox revenues. Moore says the agency will be able to meet its state mandate of covering half its operating expenses from the farebox.
But, to save money, the MTA has cut back on advertising, left unfilled some vacant jobs and reduced bus service at locations "where we're not doing well after a period of time," O'Donnell says.
The MTA plans to conduct surveys to learn more about its past and present riders, in an effort to respond better to changing ridership patterns, Moore says.
The agency also will compile unemployment data from Baltimore and surrounding counties to help future projections, since the economy plays a significant role in determining ridership, she says.
In the Washington area, by comparison, bus and subway ridership is up slightly over the last 12 months, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Ridership grew by 2 million, or less than 1 percent, says Mary Bucklew, a WMATA spokeswoman.
Still, officials there had hoped for larger gains. "We're used to larger increases. We've never seen an increase so slight," she says, pointing to the recession, a decline in tourism and layoffs as probable culprits.
A group of state legislators will begin studying Maryland's transportation needs this summer in an effort to determine how much money the state needs to pay for mass transit and highways, says Sen. William H. Amoss, D-Cecil-Harford.
Legislative leaders say they want the Maryland Department of Transportation to place more emphasis on mass transit rather than highways as it plans for the future.