Bus cuts irk many riders Some facing harsh choices after Jan. 30

November 27, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Mass Transit Administration planners want Carolyn Burch to take a hike.

They want her and 84 other commuters who now ride three half-empty buses between Towson and downtown Baltimore to leave their offices after work and hike over to Howard Street. There they can catch the light rail to Lutherville or Timonium.

But Ms. Burch and others who now ride the No. 26 bus -- especially the women -- have a message for the MTA: "No way."

They are among many Baltimore-area bus riders, including many commuters from Baltimore County, who face similar transit headaches beginning Jan. 31 if the MTA goes through with plans to eliminate seven bus lines and change or reduce service on 31 others.

All the lines proposed for elimination are lightly used by MTA standards. But the impact on the commuters who ride them varies. Some will get back into their cars. Those who don't have cars may be forced onto alternate bus routes that will add hours to their daily grind. Some, like Ms. Burch, say they are worried about crime.

"That light rail is not safe at night," Ms. Burch said as she rode her bus to work one day this week.

Other women on the No. 26 agree that the walk to Howard Street from the Inner Harbor area is too long and too frightening, particularly in bad weather and in the winter, when it grows dark early. They say cross- town buses that could take them to Howard Street are too infrequent.

Their No. 26 bus picks them up on Baltimore Street near Charles or Calvert and deposits them 54 minutes later in the Providence Road Park-and-Ride lot at the Beltway.

The comradely band of No. 26 commuters was circulating a petition down the bus aisles this week and rallying to fight for the bus line's survival at hearings that begin Dec. 1.

If they fail, they say, they'll have to drive to work, car-pool or find another bus.

MTA spokeswoman Dianna Rosborough says the service cutbacks are necessary to erase $4 million to $5 million in red ink so that the transit agency can hold state fare box subsidies to 50 percent as required by law.

On the No. 26 line, she said, the $1.85 one-way fare is meeting only 20 percent of the line's real costs.

Many of the affected commuters interviewed for this article said they don't want to drive to work, or can't, and would willingly pay higher fares to save their rides.

Craig Forrest, Baltimore County's transportation coordinator, says the MTA's proposed cutbacks are short-sighted in light of tightening demands on Baltimore from the federal Clean Air Act.

For example, he said, the Clean Air Act will require the Baltimore region -- which has the sixth-worst air pollution in the nation -- to boost average vehicle occupancy from 1.2 to 1.5 people by 2000.

"And we're talking about eliminating mass transit lines? There's something wrong with that type of thinking. We've got to make it [mass transit] attractive enough for people to get out of their cars," Mr. Forrest said. The MTA, he said, should be scrambling for ways to fill the Providence Road Park-and-Ride lot, which on a recent weekday held barely 20 cars.

While acknowledging that the MTA is currently obliged to cover half its costs from the fare box, he suggested it may be time for the state to pay more. "Perhaps this 50 percent fare-box recovery needs to be revisited [by the General Assembly] for us to come up with a viable program to get the necessary increase in vehicle occupancy," he said.

Not all the MTA's proposals to eliminate service will pose serious problems for bus patrons.

When the light rail went into operation in the summer, the No. 18 bus stopped running downtown and became a shuttle service between the Hunt Valley Mall and the Timonium Light Rail Park-and-Ride.

Now 325 people ride it each day, but it largely overlaps the No. 9 bus, which runs between Hunt Valley and Northern Parkway, through Towson. The two buses often chase each other along York Road. The MTA proposes to kill off the No. 18.

Wilma Kelly rides the No. 18 from her job at a Hunt Valley Bank to the light rail because it is more direct than the No. 9.

"I hope they don't eliminate the No. 18 because it is a little more convenient for me, but if they do, I'll just have to do with the No. 9," she said.

Many other commuters face more unattractive alternatives.

For five years, Ricky Lewis, a receiving clerk at St. Joseph's Hospital, has depended on the cross-county No. 130 bus to get him to work in Towson from his home in Randallstown. Only 15 to 20 people take the single round-trip bus daily. But for Mr. Lewis and the others who ride it, elimination of No. 130 means one thing -- getting up at 4:30 a.m. to get to work by 8, increasing travel time by two hours.

Most riders expect they wouldn't be able to reach home until 8 p.m.

"I'll have to take the M8, the 44 and the 8," Mr. Lewis said.

Those lines would take him into Baltimore City and back into the county before dropping him off at work or home.

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