The MTA after Hartman

February 21, 1993

Ronald J. Hartman's resignation as head of the Mass Transit Administration is both a loss and an opportunity.

Perhaps it was time for Mr. Hartman, who has been the MTA's general manager for eight years, to move on. He has served transit riders well in a difficult job that usually chews up managers in fewer years. He leaves with the respect of his colleagues, who understand what he has accomplished, and deserves the gratitude of Maryland officials and transit riders, who didn't always appreciate his achievements. Perhaps it is also time for the Schaefer administration to take a good look at an agency that has vastly widened its mission in the past decade.

When the MTA was created in its present form 22 years ago, it was not much more than an obsolescent Baltimore bus company, with an annual operating budget of $28.2 million.

Since then it has mushroomed into a $207 million state agency, with commuter bus service between Baltimore suburbs and to the Washington metropolitan area, two inter-city commuter rail lines, subway and light rail in this metropolitan area and subsidies for the vast Washington subway and for local buses in far-flung communities stretching from Western Maryland to Ocean City.

The MTA is not without problems. It is plagued by mandatory fare increases and decreasing ridership on many of its bus lines. The MARC commuter trains to Washington, operated for the state by Amtrak and CSX, are crowded and slow at peak hours and station parking is woefully inadequate. Light rail is slowly catching on with suburbanites.

But for all their frailties, these services are critical for the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Neither the state's economy nor the lungs of its citizens can remain healthy if today's transit riders clog the roads with more automobiles. And it is questionable whether either could survive unless more drivers are wooed onto mass transit in the future.

Mr. Hartman understood that, with the successful completion of the light rail and subway extensions in sight, the MTA must look further into the future. This becomes his successor's job. Part of that examination ought to include questions whether an agency that grew haphazardly by having functions tacked on as the need arose needs to be restructured. The building boom of the Hartman years is over for a while. But the need for more mass transit service is not. That is a challenge as great as any the MTA overcame in the past decade.

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