Little Detour on a Long Bus Trip HOWARD COUNTY

August 16, 1993

For residents who were hoping that Howard County might one day provide a better mass transit system, the recent feuding between top-level local officials over the issue might be disconcerting.

The disagreement between County Executive Charles Ecker and Columbia Association President Padraic Kennedy amounts to little more than a snit, involving a couple of tart letters between the two men.

For his part, Mr. Kennedy was upset over a county consultant's complaints that the association was dragging its feet over a survey being conducted of riders on ColumBus, Columbia's bus system.

As head of the agency that sponsors ColumBus, Mr. Kennedy was understandably miffed and assured Mr. Ecker that the problem involved a few bus drivers who felt it was too difficult to conduct the survey while concentrating on safety. "ColumBus management immediately rectified the situation and the survey was completed," Mr. Kennedy wrote. That prompted a terse letter from Mr. Ecker, complaining on behalf of the consultant who insisted that he "has never before had to go to such unusual lengths to achieve valid survey data."

All of this amounts to much ado about nothing. Fortunately, both men have put it behind them.

The real work, if Howard County is ever to have an adequate mass transit system, begins in about six to eight months when the consultant's preliminary recommendations are expected. The full study will not be completed for a year and that says nothing about the time it will take to push a mass transit plan through the appropriate government agencies.

County officials estimate that a full-service mass transit system would not be realized for another four years, a time frame which seems extremely optimistic. There is much to be considered, including what happens to ColumBus and to URTA, the Urban Rural Transportation Alliance, which provides transit service for seniors.

There are the additional questions of who will pay and what form a new mass transit system should take if it's ever realized. Options include the county running the entire system, contracting with a private carrier or creating an outside authority to operate it. All of these matters are considerably more weighty than the snarling going on between two public officials.

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