MTA bets bigger is better, especially when it comes to buses

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

March 07, 1994

In this era of jumbo, extra-large, economy sizes, why not a bigger bus?

Kemper Lewis of West Baltimore thinks it would be a colossal idea.

"I ride the buses almost every day and, in my opinion, there are routes which would be well suited for such buses," Mr. Lewis writes.

Mr. Lewis knows a little something about the subject. Besides growing up in a home where three bus lines could be viewed from the kitchen window, the unemployed security guard is a bus fanatic.

(That means he reads publications such as Bus World and absorbs the details in the same way that men read Sports Illustrated. Especially the swimsuit issue.)

He wants the Mass Transit Administration to purchase 60-foot-long articulated buses. They feature an accordion-like hinge that allows them to be reasonably maneuverable despite being 20 feet longer than a regular bus.

The buses have become common in other cities such as Washington, Philadelphia and Boston.

We forwarded this suggestion to MTA officials with the expectation that it would be flattened. Turns out, they think it's a grand idea.

MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. said the agency is in the process of acquiring 10 such buses for use on some of its busiest routes. The buses are scheduled to be delivered in November.

They can accommodate up to 65 seated passengers and 35 standing passengers. Standard buses seat 44 with 23 standing.

The bigger buses cost more, too. The 40-foot-long buses made by the Flxible Co. Inc. cost the MTA $225,000 apiece. The price tag for the 60-foot bus is $340,000.

But while the buses are costly, they save money in the long run. The driver's salary is the largest cost of running a bus, and bigger buses mean fewer drivers to handle the same number of passengers.

"They make economic sense," Mr. Agro said. "Equally important, buying them sends a message to our customers that the MTA is not only managing differently, but our appearance is different, too."

Mr. Agro said the big buses were not purchased in the past because his predecessors worried that the agency lacked facilities to maintain the buses. He said that won't be a problem after all.

Motorists needn't be fearful of confronting a 60-foot bus in traffic, Mr. Agro insisted. As mentioned before, they have caught on elsewhere without ill effect.

Two routes that are likely candidates for big buses are the No. 120, a popular express bus to downtown from White Marsh, and the No. 13, the busy east-west service from Walbrook Junction to Canton/Fells Point.

The MTA has already advertised the contract for bids. The apparent low-bidder is American Ikarus Inc. of Anniston, Ala.

The agency is also acquiring 35 standard buses this year. All the new buses will be fitted with lifts to accommodate the disabled.

Route 100/I-95 has exit ramp to nowhere

Charles P. Bielaski is nobody's fool, but he does drive past them once in a while.

That's probably a bit harsh. But then, faithful readers have always known that Intrepid Commuter is a tough (but really, really fair) columnist.

Actually, the fools in question are the unfortunate out-of-towners who make the mistake of trying to get off Interstate 95 South at Route 100 West.

As most natives know, there is no Route 100 west of I-95. Around the year 2000, there probably will be, but not now.

However, there is a ramp off I-95 leading to the future Route 100 extension. It's been there since 1969.

While the exit's deceleration lane has a solid white stripe blocking it off and wooden barriers prevent vehicles from going up the ramp, some drivers make the mistake of trying to get off there.

"I have seen several near calamities at this point," writes Mr. Bielaski, an Elkridge resident. "There should be some kind of indication that it is a future route and is not now open."

At Mr. Bielaski's request, we exerted our influence with officials at the State Highway Administration, and they've agreed to make some changes.

In the spring, SHA work crews will paint the deceleration lane with cross stripes at a 45-degree angle similar to a no-parking zone.

They will also install a series of reflectors mounted on 4-foot-tall plastic posts that will begin on the right side of the deceleration lane and sweep gradually across to block cars from entering.

In addition, a sign that currently advertises, "Elkridge Next Right," before the ramp will be changed to "Elkridge Exit 43."

"This should hopefully improve things," says Chuck Brown, an SHA spokesman.

"Anybody who travels the area knows not to exit there, but we could see how someone looking at a map and seeing Ellicott City to the west might try to use the exit," he said.

Incidentally, there is a sign about 1 1/2 miles before the closed ramp that advertises Exit 43 as a way to get to both Glen Burnie and Ellicott City.

While there is a ramp to eastbound Route 100 and Glen Burnie, we questioned why Ellicott City was even mentioned.

Mr. Brown says this is because motorists are directed to Ellicott City from the eastbound ramp. Signs indicate that motorists can take U.S. 1 south and then Route 103 west (Meadowridge Road) to get there.

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