Baltimoreans find many reasons to shun mass transit

October 20, 1994|By Jacques Kelly

What is one of Baltimore's greatest mysteries?

Answer: The base adult fare on a Mass Transit Administration bus, subway train or light rail car.

The price of a bus ride is generally unknown in this region. The cost of a ride is secret because Baltimoreans are so allergic to public transit.

"I haven't been on a bus for so long I didn't even know the fare," is a line you'll often hear.

Baltimoreans have voted with the automobile. They avoid mass transit. In the case of light rail, they are directly critical; sometimes downright hostile.

There are so many reasons why Baltimoreans shun public transit.

One is the routes don't go near their homes.

Or the schedules are not convenient.

We live in a very spread out, suburbanized region.

Jobs are as likely to be in Owings Mills, Laurel, Hunt Valley or Columbia as they are in downtown Baltimore.

Most of our transit lines remain oriented to the center of Baltimore city.

Some people view bus riding as a quaint mode of travel more suited to the 1940s than the 1990s.

Convenience, or the lack thereof, is a force that keeps people in or out of mass transit.

But it is only one reason, albeit a potent one.

Baltimore lacks the impressive rail transit systems -- and strong downtown -- that characterize Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

Because we are not used to taking public transit, what little we have is criticized by those who are ignorant of it.

So many Baltimoreans also equate mass transit with urban crime and trouble, despite the good level of service and performance of our Metro from Charles Center through Northwest Baltimore.

Riding a public conveyance is seen as a lesser, demeaning experience.

It may be acceptable for school children, the elderly or the workers at the lowest economic level.

Anyone who doesn't fit into those categories is expected to have a car.

Riding a bus is considered just not cool.

It is OK to walk or jog but a bus is locally a symbol of weakness.

Perhaps the most telling whipping boy of Baltimore's transit system is the light rail.

This is ironic, because the state built a good, basic system, one that any region could take pride in.

It is well engineered and could be extended.

Its schedules are convenient and, at least for now, the fare is dirt cheap.

But it was castigated as a conduit for crime.

It was alleged that burglars, thieves and muggers used it to threaten the safety of the suburbs.

Light rail, a state of the art transit system, is blasted as being a vehicle to transport the ills of the city to the unsullied suburbs.

One of light rail's damning points, however, is one of its strengths.

It is a regional rail line.

It goes from Baltimore County -- Timonium, Lutherville and Ruxton (where residents expressly forbade a stop) -- to the city -- Lake Roland, the Jones Falls Valley, along Howard Street, past Oriole Park -- then penetrates a bit of Baltimore County again TTC before crossing a branch of the Patapsco River into Anne Arundel County.

Baltimoreans are not comfortable with regionalism.

For so long we have been provincial.

If you grew up in Northwest Baltimore, you remained in that general area.

Maybe you leap-frogged up two or three neighborhoods, but at most you moved one or two Zip Codes away.

All this makes for warm and cozy neighborhoods, where everyone knows everyone else's secrets.

In the eyes of its critics, effective mass transit becomes the intruder, hardly a public amenity.

There has been one high profile transit success story in the last decade.

The MARC commuter trains, best known locally for their trips to Washington from Pennsylvania and Camden stations, have been tremendous success.

Their ridership has increased tenfold over comparative levels in the 1970s.

MARC commuters, however, are generally not school children, elderly or low-paid paid workers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.