With MTA's help, private companies will run 3 bus routes slated to end

January 22, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, the Mass Transit Administration will pay two private companies to take over three bus routes that were to be dropped at the end of the month as a cost-saving measure.

MTA officials yesterday announced they have awarded grants totaling $108,000 to Eatman Bus Service Inc. and Yellow Transportation Inc., both of Baltimore, to establish private shuttle service along the routes that were scheduled to be discontinued on Jan. 31.

Eatman Bus will receive up to $85,000 over the next two years to serve two routes. Beginning Feb. 1, it will run weekday and Saturday service from Dundalk to the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Fort Howard. Starting Jan. 31, it will run weekend service from the Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore to Franklin Square Hospital in Essex.

Yellow Transportation Inc. will get up to $23,000 to operate weekend bus service beginning Jan. 31 between Lake and Roland avenues in Roland Park and downtown Baltimore.

The routes were chosen for the pilot program because of the recent public outcry over their cancellation, said Frank Starr, an MTA spokes man.

The MTA will continue to run the No. 4 bus from Eastpoint Mall as far as downtown Dundalk and provide weekday service on the other two lines, the No. 35 (Hopkins to Franklin Square) and the No. 61 (downtown to Roland Park).

The bus routes had been trimmed by the MTA as part of an overall 5 percent reduction in service that the state agency approved earlier this month along with a 15-cent fare increase.

The arrangement with the two companies represents the first time the agency has, in essence, privatized an MTA bus route. The pilot program is 80 percent federally funded with the balance coming from the state.

Mr. Starr said the $108,000 subsidy is regarded as "seed" money that will offset only a portion of the expense of running a bus line. The companies will be reimbursed at 66.5 cents per mile the first year and 34.5 cents per mile the second year.

Initially, the two companies will operate approximately the same schedule as the MTA, but they will have the option of changing schedules, routes or fares under the oversight of the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Mr. Starr said the agency does not expect to subsidize the lines after two years, nor is the move likely to launch a trend.

"This is an effort to help these carriers get started," Mr. Starr said. "Is the MTA going to start a precedent of handing off all its bus routes to general contractors? The answer's no."

Yellow Transportation will charge $1.25 for the Roland Park service while Eatman intends to charge $1.50 for both its routes, company representatives said yesterday. Neither will accept MTA transfers or passes.

Although the MTA cut back the routes because of low ridership, XTC private firms are gambling that they will be able to run them more cost-effectively using either a 40-passenger bus or a 21-passenger shuttle bus, said Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Transportation. He said he recognized that his company is running a risk since the service could lose money even with a subsidy.

"We're excited about it," said Mr. Joseph, who served on a recent statewide task force on the possibility of turning over state functions to private industry. "I don't think privatization of all government services is possible, but there are opportunities when the private sector can have an impact."

For information about the new bus service, customers can contact Eatman at 462-4493, or Yellow Transportation at 783-2450.

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