Bus routes, delays draw most gripes at hearing Transportation board listens to the riders before system changes

June 26, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Riding Howard County's soon-to-be-revamped public bus system costs commuters more than just the $1 fare -- it costs them long waits for buses, long trips from one corner of Columbia to another and long walks to places the buses don't go.

"No matter what my destination, I have to figure an hour travel time," said Florence Holubar, 76, of east Columbia's Kings Contrivance village, while riding the Columbia Association's ColumBUS green line recently.

Last night, county transportation officials heard similar complaints from other residents at a public hearing before the Howard County Public Transportation Board.

It was the first public hearing on pro-posed route changes for the new bus system, which starts Monday. Called the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS), it will replace the 20-year-old ColumBUS system, which goes out of existence at the end of the day Saturday.

ColumBUS mostly serves the Columbia area, and when the HATS service starts Monday it will maintain the old ColumBUS routes.

But county transportation officials eventually want to expand the system to areas such as Elkridge, Jessup, Snowden Square and the Gateway Industrial Park in eastern Howard, along with broader service to Ellicott City and the rural west county.

"There are a number of folks who are not served at all and a number of folks who are not served to the level they want to be," Carl Balser, transportation planning chief for the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said at the hearing.

Many of more than 70 people who attended the hearing were concerned about a proposal to run a bus route on Gray Rock Road in the Dorsey Hall area. That proposal was dropped.

The new routes are expected to be in place by mid- to late September, said Ray Ambrose, project administrator for the Corridor Transportation Corp., a Laurel company managing the new bus system.

CTC will have a tighter budget for its bus service than did the Columbia Association -- about $570,400, or $150,000 less than the Columbia Association's funding. The county is seeking an additional $333,967 in state and federal money for the new system.

In the meantime, CTC will have to try to do more with less. Plans include redrawing routes, creating new routes and cutting travel time on some routes to half-hour commutes.

"We still need to test these options," Ambrose said at the hearing.

CTC wants to ensure that each community is adequately served, he said, adding that equity "is always going to be an issue."

Also at the hearing, residents suggested ways to improve bus service in the county based on their experiences with ColumBUS. The county got an earful.

"Take us where we want to go in a timely fashion and we'll ride the buses," said Helen Thompson of Wilde Lake village.

Richard McCloud of Long Reach village said drastic changes in the routes could make it difficult for him to get around because "I am totally blind and I cannot get to the village center without a 50-minute walk."

The comments were typical of riders on ColumBUS, many of whom complain about long commutes.

The ride from Long Reach Village Center to Howard Community College takes 40 minutes, for example. That includes a transfer stop at The Mall in Columbia to the green line bus.

And it takes just about an hour on the bus to get from the Long Reach Village Center to the Hickory Ridge Village Center.

"They need more buses and more bus routes," said Hickory Ridge village resident Daria Fenderson, who rides ColumBUS two to three times a week to get to work and around Columbia.

LaKeisha Richardson, a resident of Columbia's Long Reach Village, commutes from her home to her job at The Mall -- a four-mile trip that took 20 minutes one recent morning. She cites the need for better on-time performance on the part of the system.

"Most buses are late," she said.

Betty Kelly, a Long Reach resident, had mixed feelings about the current bus system.

"The service as it stands is OK for me," said Kelly, who rides the bus one or two times a week to see her doctor. "I don't drive. I depend on the bus."

Even so, she has one nagging complaint: "I would like to see a route on Sunday."

Transportation officials said expanded weekend service isn't likely soon, but they will carefully consider residents' concerns.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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