Scorned, obscure No. 30 bus line runs out of gas


November 30, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

The city's smallest bus route is at the end of its line.

The Mass Transit Administration recently announced plans to do away with the No. 30, a transit line that has endured scorn, low patronage and a tortuous route for 120 years.

On a good run, 15 people might board the bus during its entire journey from the Penn Station area through West and Southwest Baltimore to a terminus near the Cross Street Market.

Most people who ride it must know its convoluted comings and goings by heart.

It seems to make a turn every third block.

It avoids downtown. It's strictly a neighborhood wayward bus that operates only Monday through Friday, basically from sunrise to sunset.

The 30 possesses a valiant history in Baltimore transit annals. In 1872, the City Council granted rights to the North Baltimore Passenger Railway Co. to operate a horse car (work horses pulled wooden trailers) along McMechen Street and Fremont Avenue.

Technology changed in the 1890s. The steeds were put out to pasture as electric streetcars began rolling through what was then a district of prime residential addresses.

In 1950 the iron rails were paved in asphalt and the line became an electric trolley bus. This lasted only until 1957, when diesel buses took over. They still operate on its 30-minute run.

Ridership on this venerable line was never strong. Even 70 years ago, the old United Railways and Electric Company assigned some of its smallest streetcars to the Fremont Avenue line, as Baltimoreans often called the 30.

The route has never enjoyed much esteem from bus drivers. They pick their route assignments based on years of seniority. This line is not popular.

The line has been shriveling for years, thanks to declines in city pop

ulation and changing riding habits. How many people want to go from Lafayette and Charles to Pigtown? Not too many.

One day last week, most of its patrons were elderly. They rode for only two or three stops, then got off. Many carried shopping bags as they boarded the coach at the old North Avenue Market, North and Maryland, and rode over the North Avenue Bridge to the Bolton North apartment house for the elderly. Another elderly passenger used crutches to climb aboard.

A few women caught the bus at the Charles Street door of the Cross Street Market, rode over the Hamburg Street Bridge, pulled the cord and departed in Pigtown.

Another woman boarded the bus, took a seat and immediately began snoring. Only when the coach made one of its notorious sharp turns -- at Edmondson and Schroeder -- did she come to.

Not everyone who lives along the No. 30 route will rue its passing. One resident of the 1500 block of Bolton St. blames the lumbering buses for shaking her home so much that a large mirror fell off her dining room wall.

For all of its roundabout ways, the bus might do better if it was billed as a tourist attraction. It leaves from Charles and Lafayette, two blocks north of Pennsylvania Station, and soon passes through two of the city's prestigious historic districts -- Bolton Hill and Marble Hill. It then crosses Pennsylvania Avenue near the heart of Baltimore's one-time black entertainment and shopping district.

From here it's the bus line of those magnificent 19th century West Baltimore churches clustered along what's left of Fremont Avenue.

The 30 serves the front doors of Macedonia Baptist, Enon Baptist, St. Pius V Roman Catholic (a stone papal crown is above the front door), Mount Olivet Christian Church, Trinity Baptist, Mount Olive Freewill Baptist and St. Jerome's Roman Catholic.

The line even serves the home of a church that no longer exists. Housed in the basement of St. Pius is the St. Barnabas Club, an old-timers organization for parishioners of the long-shuttered St. Barnabas Church, which once flourished in the 600 block of W. Biddle St.

From Southwest Baltimore it cuts through Oriole Park's parking lots via Hamburg Street until it terminates in South Baltimore, just off Hanover Street.

The 30 has a few more weeks of chugging through the old neighborhoods before its coaches pull into the Bush Street bus barn forever.

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