MTA changes go into effect today Riders' protests failed to stop fare increases, reductions in routes

March 10, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

As transit riders gear up to pay higher fares and grapple with changing bus routes today, irate passengers such as Queen Wilson can say they went down fighting.

Mrs. Wilson and hundreds of other Mass Transit Administration riders are facing the facts that letter-writing campaigns, protest marches and rallies couldn't reverse the MTA's decision to increase fares by 8 percent while shortening some bus routes.

The cost-cutting measures, which MTA officials say will close the gap between revenues and expenses, have hit Mrs. Wilson particularly hard.

"Do these people realize that I now have to take a bus into the city first and then get on another to take me to [St. Joseph] hospital?" said Mrs. Wilson as she rested her feet on the empty bus seat next to her. "I tried to fight this, but I guess they don't care that an old woman has to wait out in the cold all day for a bus that's going to get me to work late."

Mrs. Wilson's No. 130 express bus from Randallstown to Towson stopped running Friday, requiring a handful of regular customers to make their way into Baltimore City, then back into the county.

But MTA officials say the route has to be shut down because only a handful of people depend on the direct link from Randallstown to Towson. For years, it has been a drain on the MTA budget, they say. And since ridership has been declining for years, MTA no longer can afford such a luxury.

"What is a luxury to them is a necessity to me," Mrs. Wilson protested.

Of the 66 bus routes, the 12 least popular ones will be shortened or discontinued. Though all the changes take place today, most riders won't feel the brunt until tomorrow when the traditional work week begins.

A one-way fare will now $1.35, up from $1.25, and passengers can buy an unlimited all-day pass for $3.

Also, the changes mark the end of the current five-zone system, which charges passengers a fee in addition to the basic fare each time they enter a different zone. Under the new plan, someone riding from Anne Arundel County through the city and into Baltimore County will pay the same fare as someone going just a few blocks.

MTA officials have blitzed radio and newspapers with ads about today's changes. They also have handed out fliers to several thousand passengers. Still, MTA spokeswoman Nanci Philips said that she expects some confusion among passengers.

"We hope not too much, but anytime there is change there are going to be some questions," Ms. Philips said.

What MTA officials have called a vast improvement over the old system critics universally panned during a flurry of protests and letter-writing campaigns that alleged racism and bias against city residents, who make up the majority of MTA's ridership.

Though MTA officials say that they understand why riders would be upset to pay a dime more, they are required to recover 50 percent of MTA's operating costs from passenger fares.

Vernon Watts, a maintenance mechanic who until Friday rode the No. 130 bus to Towson State University for the past eight years, said he isn't too concerned about the politics surrounding the MTA changes. With only one car in the family, he and his wife will juggle their schedules tomorrow so that she can ferry him to and from work.

"Or I could go downtown, or take the 8 bus, or catch the 44, or go all the way out to Old Court Road. I'll make it somehow," Mr. Watts said while peering from behind his newspaper.

How ever he makes it, if it is on a bus, his normal 25-minute jaunt home will take longer.

Route changes

Here are the bus route changes scheduled to take effect today:

No. 5 line -- runs between Mondawmin Metro station and Cedonia: Service will be rerouted via Whitelock Street.

No. 7 line -- runs between Mondawmin Metro station and Canton: Late weeknight and Saturday night runs between Canton and Pikesville will be lengthened from 50 to 65 minutes.

No. 9 line -- runs between Hunt Valley and York Road and Northern Parkway: Evening runs will be lengthened from 15 to 30 minutes.

No. 11 line -- runs between Towson and Riverview via downtown Baltimore: The portion of the route serving Osler Drive, between Rodgers Forge and the Towson courthouse, will be discontinued.

Nos. 12 and 17 lines -- No. 12 runs between the North Linthicum light rail stop and Parkway Center in Anne Arundel County, and No. 17 runs between the Patapsco light rail stop and the Cromwell Station/Glen Burnie light rail stop: Both lines will be combined into the new No. 17 line that will serve parts of both routes. Lake Shore and Green Haven service on the No. 17 line will be discontinued. Weekday and Saturday service along Hammonds Ferry Road and Saturday service southeast of the airport will be discontinued.

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