Bus riders hoping for more direct trip

March 07, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Debra Garner had to take a more than two-hour bus ride to get from her home in Catonsville to her GED class in Lansdowne -- a five-mile trip that takes about 20 minutes by car.

That's because no buses connect communities in western Baltimore County to those in the southwestern part of the county.

In blue-collar communities such as Arbutus, Lansdowne, Baltimore Highlands and Halethorpe, some residents say they need buses linking them directly to Catonsville, where many social services and jobs are situated.

Surveys conducted

In response, officials at the Mass Transit Administration are conducting surveys to determine whether at least 200 people from western to southwestern Baltimore County would ride each day.

Such a route would change Ms. Garner's life.

From July to October, the 36-year-old mother of three caught a 6:35 a.m. bus near Security Square Mall to downtown Baltimore. Arriving about 8:20 a.m. at Baltimore Arena, she got another bus at 8:30 a.m. It took her west to Lansdowne, where she arrived after 9:30 a.m.

Once she dropped her daughter off at day care, she attended a GED course through Project Independence, a state program that helps welfare recipients find jobs. By the time she got to the class, held in the basement of St. Clement's Rectory in Lansdowne, it was 10 a.m., an hour after the start of class.

"It's been a stressful journey," said Ms. Garner. To and from home, she easily spent five hours a day on the bus. If she missed the connecting bus, she had to wait an hour for the next one. Sometimes she got so frustrated that she went back home. "It was so discouraging," she said.

Since October, she has borrowed neighbor Judy Dorsey's 1983 Ford Crown Victoria, which she drives on the Beltway south from the Security Boulevard exit to the Hollins Ferry Road exit, which takes her 15 minutes to a half-hour.

In exchange, she runs errands for Ms. Dorsey, who is disabled. But the car is not always reliable -- and it's not hers.

It would change everything

Ms. Garner, who hopes to become a physician's assistant eventually, says a bus linking her home to her school would change everything. "I could jump up, get on the bus, and come on to school," she said.

She and her classmates told their teachers this winter what they were going through. Several students said they depended on unreliable cars, other people or roundabout bus routes like Ms. Garner's. Some said they felt isolated, stranded, unable to carry out errands.

Sharon Pitcher, a facilitator with Baltimore County's Office of Adult and Alternative Education, heard their call for help. She said she often encounters people struggling to find jobs and schooling but whose options are limited because they can't find the public transportation they need.

The proposal

So, in February and March she and community activists talked to officials of the Mass Transit Administration, proposing that the MTA expand the No. 77 bus route to include southwestern Baltimore County communities. The 77 now operates between Randallstown and Catonsville.

"Right now that is being reviewed by our scheduling and planning departments," said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown.

To extend the bus service, the MTA would have to spend $80,000 each year. It is required to collect 50 percent of expenditures through fares. To cover half the cost of the extension, 200 people would have to use the route each day. "Right now, we are conducting surveys in an effort to see if the ridership might meet those levels," Mr. Brown said.

Before the MTA can meet the needs in the southwestern part of the county, surveys must be analyzed. Available in large apartment complexes, the area library and social service offices, the surveys ask potential riders how often they go to various southwestern Baltimore County locations, whether they have cars and whether they would use bus service and when. Drop-off boxes for the surveys are at the same sites.

'It would be a relief'

Mr. Brown said he expects to collect the surveys this week and will let the community know the results soon.

If the outcome means there will be a bus, "it would be a relief," said Ms. Garner. "For me, it would be hope, that you can accomplish the things that you want."

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