Poor Baltimore. It doesn't have enough jobs for all the people who want one. The city's tax base suffers as a result. Poor Howard County. It doesn't have enough employees for all the low-skills jobs that are available. Some companies in the county suffer as a result. So why hasn't someone figured out a way to bring the people to the jobs?
An inner-city non-profit agency, the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, thinks it has a solution. It has applied for a $2.5 million HUD grant to purchase and operate vans that would transport 500 workers daily from their homes in Baltimore to entry-level jobs in Howard's booming U.S. 1 industrial corridor, where companies such as Corporate Express office suppliers, East Coast Ice Cream Novelties and Smelkinson-Sysco food distributors need workers.
The HEBCAC proposal, which it calls "reverse commuting," makes you wonder why the Mass Transit Administration hasn't tried to fill this need. MTA spokesman Anthony Brown says it will be monitoring the project to see if MTA should be involved in more than an advisory role. He points out that state law requiring MTA to recover 50 percent of its operating costs through fares limits the experimentation it can do. It has to know the ridership is there before committing buses.
MTA is trying to increase the ways that suburban commuters can get into the city and back. It is expanding light rail service and putting more parking spaces at several MARC stations.
All the air pollution alerts during the recent record period of 90-degree days should spur greater interest in getting more cars off the road. For that to happen, though, MTA must be more aggressive in providing and marketing mass transit alternatives. For example, it only offers one bus that can take an office worker back home to Columbia from Baltimore if she has to work past 5:30 p.m. No wonder surveys in that suburb of lone riders show little interest in mass transit.
And Baltimore officials should get more involved in seeking mass transit solutions for city dwellers who can't find work in town. Highways run in two directions. It's time to stop crying about the flight of jobs to the suburbs and help people get to wherever there is work and back home to Baltimore, where they can spend their money. HEBCAC's good idea is just a starting point. More regional cooperation between MTA, the city and counties is essential to develop a transportation network that fills in all the gaps.