A nonprofit bus line serving Laurel is proposing a bus route that would link commuters, shoppers, students and senior citizens traveling between Laurel and Columbia and would provide a connection to Washington transit systems for Columbia riders.
Corridor Transportation Corp., which runs routes in Laurel, plans to share bus stops and shelters with ColumBus to form a route running from the Laurel Centre Mall through Savage and Columbia's Huntington community to The Mall in Columbia.
"Both Laurel and Columbia operate small- to medium-sized bus operations that get pretty close to each other," said Raymond Ambrose, project administrator for Corridor. "The logical thing is to try to link up the two systems. It creates a lot more public transit opportunities in the corridor."
"We welcome this link," said Maggie Brown, director of community services for the nonprofit Columbia Association, which runs ColumBus.
Corridor plans to apply to the Maryland Public Service Commission for permission to change its service and will schedule a meeting in Laurel to review changes with residents, Mr. Ambrose said.
The proposed route would begin Sept. 5. A one-way trip would take 40 minutes and would travel primarily along U.S. 1, Savage Guilford Road, Vollmerhausen Road, Murray Hill Road and Broken Land Parkway. It would have 25 to 30 stops, including about 12 shared stops. The fare would be 90 cents, regardless of where riders get on or off.
The proposed service would begin at 6 a.m. in Laurel and at 7 a.m. in Columbia. A bus would run every two hours from each mall, with the last run departing from Laurel at 4 p.m. and from Columbia at 5 p.m.
The proposal is not expected to increase costs for either bus service. Under the proposal, only Corridor Transportation would be expanding its route. To control costs, Corridor Transportation would reduce the frequency of its Laurel-to-Savage route and offset those losses by picking up Columbia riders, Mr. Ambrose said.
Mr. Ambrose said there has been demand in the Laurel area for service to Columbia among job commuters, students at Howard Community College and the elderly.
The route would link Columbia-area riders to the Washington Metrobus system and a Maryland Rail Commuter train in Laurel. It would link Laurel riders to Ellicott City via a ColumBus route to the Howard County government complex.
"One thing we've said for a long time is there's a need for better linkages between systems," said Carl Balser, the county's chief of transportation planning.
The county, which gives a grant to both systems to help cover operating costs, is performing a transportation study to determine how to improve public transportation and what role the county should take. The Columbia Association has discussed with the county its desire to eventually discontinue its bus service, Mr. Balser said.
"If they opt out, what can be put in its place?" he said. "Should the county operate its own system or contract out? It's not the kind of thing the county wants to be cavalier about when we know there are high costs."
The Columbia Association operates eight buses on four main bus routes covering Columbia's village centers, employment parks, Howard County General Hospital and the Ellicott City link. ColumBus costs about $1 million annually to operate, including administration, and will run at a projected deficit of about $200,000 this year. Operating income comes from county, state and federal grants and fares.