Baltimore County officials start to work on car-pooling plan for Towson

December 25, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Each morning, Mary Jane Mueller picks up three people on her way to work in Towson, where she is an administrative assistant to the Baltimore County finance director.

Her riders pay her $1 per day, which helps her buy gas for her Ford Crown Victoria. Besides, she likes the company.

"I'd rather have people in the car with me than be alone," said Ms. Mueller, who has been car pooling from her Parkville neighborhood for the past 15 years.

This month, county planners began work on a proposal to get thousands of Towson commuters to do the same thing.

J. Craig Forrest, Baltimore County transportation coordinator, said a $60,000 federal Urban Mass Transit grant approved by the county council last week will fund an 18-month study to come up with a parking program that encourages car pooling in Towson. The council also approved a $95,750 grant to continue efforts to promote car pooling -- among public and private employers -- countywide.

Mr. Forrest said there's no parking shortage in Towson, but that increased car pooling will help the county meet federal clean air standards.

During the next several months, the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, which helped secure the grant, and county planners will survey county employees to assess their commuting patterns and attitudes on ride sharing, Mr. Forrest said.

An advisory committee of county employees, personnel managers and union representatives also will be set up to look at solutions -- which may include raising parking rates for commuters who don't car pool.

County planners estimate that roughly 120,000 motorists come to Towson each day.

But Donald W. Brewer, the county's ride sharing coordinator, said it is impossible to determine exactly how many county employees or private sector workers are car pooling.

Mr. Brewer said about 60 people use a county-funded, van-pool service to ride in six vans to work each day and another 164 people commute in a county subsidized car pooling program. Participants like Ms. Mueller must drive three people in their own cars, and are provided parking free, he said.

Mr. Brewer has spent the last seven years at malls, fairs and festivals trying to convince motorists to car pool. With the help of the $95,750 federal grant, he also is mailing out thousands of packets of information to private employers promoting car pooling and detailing ways his office will help set up car pools.

According to a memo being distributed to private employers, the federal Clean Air Act will require firms with 100 or more workers to submit a compliance plan to the state with ways to reduce employees' work-related vehicle use by Nov. 15, 1994.

But Mr. Brewer said it is hard to sell car pooling as long as parking in business districts around the county remains inexpensive.

"As long as cheap parking's available, it's just common sense that the incentive isn't going to be there," he said.

The current rate for metered parking in Towson -- 20 cents an hour for on-street meters and 40 cents an hour for off-street meters -- has been the same for several years.

The county also helps some of its employees pay for parking, whether they car pool or not.

County budget analysts say roughly 1,000 county employees who drive to work solo receive a $34 per month subsidy to park in Baltimore County Revenue Authority garages. The employee pays $21 a month toward the $55 monthly parking fee, said Fred Homan, county budget director.

The subsidy costs the county roughly $400,000 a year, Mr. Homan said.

Mr. Forrest said as part of the Clean Air Act, the county must come up with a plan to reduce auto emissions by cutting back on the number of cars driven to work each day.

The Maryland Department of the Environment also must come up with a state plan to limit auto emissions statewide by Nov. 15, 1992.

Michael Sullivan, a Department of the Environment spokesman, said that the department is working on its plan. He added that Gov. William Donald Schaefer will seek legislation in the 1992 legislative session requiring that low-emission vehicles, or "California cars" with better emission controls, be sold in Maryland in the next two to three years.

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