Long-suffering Howard commuters to get help

March 19, 1996|By James M. Coram and Ivan Penn | James M. Coram and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Howard County employers along the U.S. 1 corridor and in the Columbia Gateway office park will be told tomorrow that long-sought help for commuting employees is on the way.

The county government with the BWI Business Partnership and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council plans to help commuters by coordinating car pools, developing company programs and providing free shuttle service between the Jessup MARC station and area companies.

"We have to work harder on what I call the 'reverse commute' helping find transportation to bring people [from elsewhere] to work" within the county, said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "I think this is a very positive move. I am hopeful we can work something out for businesses who need workers along Route 1."

At a breakfast meeting tomorrow, Mr. Ecker, county officials and representatives of the BWI partnership and the Metropolitan Council will air the results of the council's commuter survey done last summer among employees commuting to the U.S. 1 corridor. Key findings include:

* The "overwhelming majority of employees" 81.6 percent drive to work alone.

* A majority of employees 64.2 percent say they don't have access to public transportation. Another 23 percent don't know whether it is available.

* Those who know there is public transportation report knowing little about how to use it.

* Many employees not only work for companies near each other, they live near each other.

That makes car-pooling a natural, said Karen O'Neill, the county's commuter assistance coordinator. She and Neil Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, plan to visit every employer within the corridor to help design commuter-assistance programs. "This is the first step toward a long-term solution," Mr. Shpritz said.

Carl S. Balser, the county's chief transportation planner, said the survey will help map out strategies for commuters. For example, he said, two adjacent companies may have shifts that differ by only a half-hour, he said. "If one or both companies could alter their shift times a little, we could work out a van pool," he said.

Workers along the U.S. 1 corridor are most in need of the county's commuter assistance efforts.

The corridor has thousands of entry-level warehouse, packing and distribution jobs that pay an average $6 to $8 an hour wages often too low for them to afford to live in Howard County, one of the nation's wealthiest jurisdictions.

But many of these workers also don't have cars. Although MARC trains stop in Elkridge, Jessup, Savage and Laurel, there are no shuttle bus services from those stops to employment areas.

Because of transportation problems, many U.S. 1 businesses have been short of workers.

The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income people, had hoped to start a program in September to bus up to 500 city residents to jobs along U.S. 1. That program has been postponed because of an inability to obtain federal assistance.

Mr. Balser expects no difficulty, getting federal assistance under the state's Transportation Emission Reduction Pilot Program (TERP).

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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