THE MASS TRANSIT Administration's plan to remake its system in the Baltimore region is motivated neither by racism nor a preference for suburbanites. In fact, one could easily make the counter-argument: That the MTA is trying to get suburban residents to carry a greater share of funding mass transit, the burden which now falls squarely on the shoulders of Baltimoreans, who comprise 90 percent of the ridership.
The 50 people who turned out at Lexington Market on Martin Luther King Day to protest the changes, and who were incited by city Councilman Melvin L. Stukes and the All People's Congress to view this in terms of race, have the impact reversed.
The most severe route changes will affect northern Anne Arundel County, not the city. Because state law requires public transportation to operate more or less like a business, routes with low ridership must be shed. (MTA, however, has a responsibility to help lawmakers find other options for displaced riders, possibly community vans funded by transportation grants.) Meanwhile, the largest fare increases will hit suburban pockets: Columbia and Annapolis residents who ride MTA express buses to Washington will see their costs nearly tripled, from the ridiculously cheap fare of $1 to $2.80 one-way by next year.
The change that seems most unsettling to long-time bus riders is the end of the transfer, a fixture in Baltimore transit dating back to horse-drawn trolleys of the 1800s. Now, a rider pays $1.25 for a one-way fare, and an extra dime to transfer to a different bus or train. The MTA was going to increase the price of that combination to $1.50. Instead, it devised a simpler $3 "day pass," good all day.
A recent fare restructuring in New York has been challenged in court on grounds of unfairly discriminating against the urban poor. Whatever similarities will be made between these cases, there is one huge difference: Suburban New Yorkers don't have to be convinced of the worth of mass transit. They swear by it. Suburban Baltimore residents, on the other hand, still swear by their cars. Until they are persuaded to ride buses and trains, financing mass transit will remain an urban burden.