With today's official start of Metro service to a new subway station at Johns Hopkins Hospital, city and state officials should take steps to determine the future of mass transit in Baltimore.
The Metro was conceived as a 77-mile system with six lines. Today it has only one complete line -- the northwestern 14-mile route to Owings Mills. The Johns Hopkins leg could easily be the beginning of a northeastern route to White Marsh. But the high price means that is unlikely to happen.
This short, 1.5-mile leg, which includes new stations at the Shot Tower as well as Hopkins, cost $343 million. Federal funds paid 85 percent. But the Republican Congress is drastically reducing support for mass transit.
MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. admits future subway extensions are unlikely, but he points out that other, less expensive modes could extend existing transportation lines.
One possibility is a light-rail from White Marsh that travels a brief distance underground before terminating at the Hopkins subway stop. In a few years, the existing light-rail line from Timonium to Ferndale will extend north to Hunt Valley, with its mall, 350 businesses and 30,000 employees; south to BWI Airport and the surrounding business district; and to Amtrak's Penn Station downtown.
Mr. Agro says MTA will be more creative in trying to address the transportation needs of new markets. A more aggressive approach has already stabilized the declining subway ridership that accompanied the loss of 53,000 jobs in the Baltimore area between 1990 and 1993.
Subway ridership was 49,000 people a day in 1989, but by 1994 had fallen to 37,000 a day. Opening the Johns Hopkins link is expected to attract at least 4,000 new passengers and the potential is even greater. About 20,000 employees and students work at Hopkins and another 25,000 patients and visitors travel there daily.
Bus ridership also needs an up-tick. It climbed to 350,000 riders a day in 1988, but has since dropped to 270,000 riders a day. The good news is that light-rail ridership has increased from 3,285 a day in 1992 to 20,400 daily riders. And the MARC commuter train now has 19,568 riders a day compared with 13,555 in 1990.
The long-awaited Johns Hopkins subway station creates a variety of mass transit possibilities involving all of these modes of transportation. How many possibilities become reality will determine the viability of mass transit for commuters who so far have not been convinced they should leave their cars at home.