Do not underestimate the importance of the new stretch of the Central Light Rail Line from Baltimore to Ferndale and Glen Burnie. It's true, ridership has been light since the Ferndale and Glen Burnie/Cromwell Station stops opened Sunday. But as Anne Arundel Councilman George Bachman, of Linthicum, said, "Once it takes off, it's going to be a boon."
North County has been fighting for light rail for years. It's a key to revitalizing Glen Burnie, Linthicum and Ferndale, which have a rich history as railroad towns; riding the Baltimore & Annapolis commuter trains was a fact of life until the 1950s. The completion of the southern light rail leg restores that piece of North County's heritage.
Of course, much has changed in 40 years. People have gotten used to riding in their cars from driveway to destination's doorstep, and they will not break that habit overnight. Since a year ago, when the northern leg to Timonium opened, light rail has averaged 8,195 riders a day. That's a far cry from the 33,100 daily riders projected by 2010, and makes it easy to condemn the project as a waste of $462.5 million in taxpayer money.
Yet light rail ridership will pick up. Over the next decade, as the Clean Air Act requires employers to reduce daily employee automobile trips, greater financial incentives -- and disincentives -- will spur motorists to give mass transit a try.
Anne Arundel residents seem likely to make the transition to trains more easily than their Baltimore County counterparts. The northern leg of light rail runs through some wealthy areas, where people are not used to mass transit. South Baltimore and North County, by contrast, are blue-collar and transit-dependent. Also, problems that make the northern spur inconvenient have been avoided on the southern end. The Mass Transit Administration failed to provide enough parking and laid a single track along much of the northern leg. In northern Anne Arundel, parking's aplenty, and the trip downtown is fast -- just 24 minutes to Camden Yards.
Despite these advantages, countians will need some prodding to use light rail. Why doesn't the MTA offer a promotion to attract first-time riders, say, letting people ride for half-price during the first month or so? Once people see how fast and easy it is, there's a good chance they'll abandon the car for the train every time they go downtown.