Low-income riders try new bus service $1.35 compares with a $6 cab ride WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

April 06, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Opening Day for Phil Wallace was not a baseball game at Camden Yards in Baltimore. It was a bus ride to Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie.

The Pioneer City resident became the first customer yesterday for a new bus service designed to make it easier for people living in low-income communities in the western part of the county to travel.

"I have to get to the Social Services building in Glen Burnie," Mr. Wallace said as he waited for the 7:40 a.m. bus at Arwell Court and Pioneer Drive.

If not for the new bus service, Mr. Wallace said, he would take a cab, costing about $6, or "would just try to catch a ride with somebody."

Now, for $1.25, he can get to Harundale, where another dime will buy him a transfer onto an MTA bus.

But Mr. Wallace was the only passenger to get on at Meade Village or Pioneer City on the first two of four morning runs. Officials predicted a slow start but hope the new service will catch on.

"I hope it does get going," said Eric Taylor, the bus driver. "We'll see what happens. Everybody has high hopes for it."

So high, in fact, that the state Department of Transportation funneled a $27,437 federal grant to Willie Nixon, a county school bus contractor, to operate the service for two years.

It is part of the Mass Transit Administration's "Access to Jobs" program, which provides privately operated transportation where the MTA does not have service.

"There was a definite interest with the tenants," said Mary Schneider, the resident manager of Meade Village, a county public housing community. "We are just excited here. We have so many tenants who are isolated."

The bus will make various stops in the two communities four times each morning and three times each afternoon. It is the result of two years of work by the Dream Team, a group of county business owners working to help disadvantaged residents.

Courtney Garton, owner of Hats in the Belfry in Annapolis and a Dream Team member, said he tried unsuccessfully to get Fort Meade to supply a van. Then Ms. Nixon called and offered to help.

After months of planning, officials sponsored a fair at Meade Village last Tuesday to explain the program. More than 100 people showed up.

"I couldn't believe it," Mr. Garton said. "I didn't think there would be this many people interested."

An MTA bus stops outside Pioneer City, but officials said its route is inconvenient for commuters traveling within the county. "It takes them to Baltimore first, before they can get down to Glen Burnie or Annapolis," Mr. Garton said.

The new service will eliminate that problem, he said, and help residents of the area get to where they might find jobs.

"The only jobs around here are fast-food jobs," Mr. Garton said. "There's no future in jobs around here."

But the service won't survive if people don't use it, he said. Even with the grant, Ms. Nixon is putting up money of her own and will need to break even.

The bus driver, Mr. Taylor, said he credits Ms. Nixon with making a difference, even if he did drive an empty bus around for much of his first morning on the job.

"Somebody should give her an award for just trying something like this," he said.

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