MTA plans major cut in bus service 17 of 62 lines would be affected

November 19, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

The state has unveiled plans to eliminate or reduce service on 17 of the Baltimore area's 62 bus lines, the deepest cutback in service ever proposed by the Mass Transit Administration.

The downsizing would amount to a 5 percent reduction in daily mileage for the MTA buses and would save the state an estimated $4 million annually in salaries and operating costs.

The reductions will generally hurt residents in the suburban counties the most and city dwellers the least. The city routes are simply busier than the suburban bus lines and their costs are easier to justify, said Harvey Zelefsky, the agency's manager of service planning.

"People in the city are more likely to depend on a bus," said Mr. Zelefsky. "But every bus has some people on it. We have to hurt someone."

The MTA plan would eliminate seven bus lines entirely and reduce or eliminate service on numerous lines late at night.

"No question, it's a significant set of changes," Mr. Zelefsky said. "These are pretty heavy-duty cuts."

Metro service will also be reduced. The subways, which no longer run on Sundays, would close at 10 p.m. weekdays instead of midnight.

Public hearings have been scheduled for the first week of December to discuss the changes, which are set to go into effect Jan. 31. Opposition could lead the transit agency to alter some specifics, but MTA Administrator Ronald J. Hartman said the overall goal of a 5 percent cutback must still be met.

"We've gone to great lengths so that most of our customers aren't going to feel it," Mr. Hartman said. "The challenge was to hurt people the least, but we have to reduce and eliminate costs as best we can."

The service reduction has been planned in conjunction with an across-the-board fare increase announced last week. The proposed fare increase will raise the base adult fare from $1.10 to $1.25 on buses, light rail and Metro.

Both the higher fares and the cutbacks are necessary because of a gradual decline in revenues and increasing costs, MTA officials said.

A 9-year-old state law requires that income from fares cover half the operating costs for the bus and subway systems. Even with the cutbacks, the systems' costs are expected to amount to $140 million this year, of which $70 million will be paid for by federal funds and state tax revenues.

Ridership on buses and the Metro is down, while the cost of running the systems has continued to increase in recent years. Over the past two years, bus ridership in the Baltimore area has declined 4 percent each year to the current 275,000 passenger trips a day.

Mr. Hartman said the cutbacks will not result in any layoffs. The MTA has left 140 positions vacant in preparation for the reduction, he said.

Officials said the downsizing plan has no relationship to either the costs or the ridership levels on the Central Light Rail Line, which began service in April and has so far attracted only modest ridership.

The proposed cutbacks immediately caused an outcry in Dundalk, where the No. 4 bus would cease to make its four trips a day to the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Fort Howard. The bus would no longer run south from Dunman Way and Dundalk Avenue to the hospital, a distance of 13.25 miles.

By yesterday morning, volunteers had collected more than 1,100 signatures on a petition protesting the change, calling it a "disgrace" that the hospital would no longer be served by public transit.

"All of these public officials make a big deal on Veterans Day and come here to say how much they care about veterans," said Audrey Turnbull of Dundalk, a recreation therapy assistant who is leading the petition drive. "The question is, how are they going to help them now?"

Mr. Zelefsky said the decision was made to end the service because of low ridership.

Random checks had shown as few as eight people riding on the four buses to Fort Howard on a typical weekday.

"We just can't afford to keep running that service anymore," he said. "These are hard recommendations to make, but the ridership just isn't there and budget times are tough."

Opponents claim other bus lines with low ridership have been spared in the cutbacks.

They said the MTA does not fully realize the hardship they are causing hospital employees, patients, and family members who come by bus to visit.

Hospital worker Kathy Breslin, a Dundalk resident who is legally blind, said her only alternative may be to pay taxi fare of $25 a day. She said she can't afford that, and so the MTA cutback may cost her a job.

"If you depend on this transportation, the MTA isn't just making it inconvenient, they're making it impossible," she said.

PUBLIC HEARINGS

* State Highway Administration, 1st floor auditorium, 300 West Preston St., Baltimore. Two hearings on Dec. 1, noon to 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

* Robert Pascal Senior Center, 125 Dorsey Road, Glen Burnie. Dec. 1, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

* Essex Community College, Business and Management Building, Room B-220, 7201 Rossville Blvd., Rosedale. Dec. 2, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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