Rebuffed 6 months ago, MTA still seeking operator for county Ridesharing program State workers handle inquiries on car pools

December 19, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Mass Transit Administration officials have yet to find a new operator for Baltimore County's Ridesharing program -- six months after a balky Baltimore County Council rejected $95,750 in state money to run it.

Anthony Brown, spokesman for the MTA, says state workers are taking phone calls on an interim basis from county residents looking to join car pools and plan to advertise for a private company to operate the program.

The council's action hasn't had a significant effect on those using the Ridesharing program. Most of the administrative burden has simply been shifted to the state, which continues to make the program a priority.

Until July, the state also is paying for county employees to commute to and from work in six county-operated vans. Another 150 county employees commute on public transportation, at the state's expense.

"We feel like [Ridesharing] is a benefit," said Brown, noting that if the money turned down by the county remains unspent, it will revert to the state transportation trust fund, to pay for some other transportation project.

Ridesharing matches people seeking rides to and from work and promotes the program on the theory it helps cut traffic congestion, saves energy and helps the environment.

But the fiscally conservative council, on a 5-2 vote July 1, rejected money to administer the program because the majority saw no benefit in it.

Leaders of the council mini-revolt say a lack of reaction reinforces their belief that their instincts were correct. The two county employees who lost their jobs that night were quickly placed in new, permanent county-funded positions.

"I've heard from nobody on Ridesharing," said Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, the Arbutus-Catonsville Democrat who said "no" first and loudest. "If the state's doing it, why are we duplicating their efforts?" he asked, adding that his mind is unchanged.

Moxley's stated complaint the night of the vote was actually about bus routes in his district, not about Ridesharing, but his bid to send the MTA a message caught on with other members. Brown said the MTA has since acted on Moxley's bus complaints.

Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican who often has agonized over the impulse to reject federal and state money, also said he has no regrets.

"I still don't see the need for the program," he said, adding that, he too, has heard no complaints.

The real issue in these decisions, he said, "is whether or not we want to control" how the money is spent.

Normally, the outside money will be spent whether the county approves or not. Rejecting the funds only means federal or state officials -- not county ones -- make the program rules.

But Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who was one of the two supporters of the program, said his mind hasn't changed.

"I think it was the right thing to accept the money. It was silly to vote against it," he said, chalking the vote up to "passion, as opposed to rational thought.

"The bottom line is it cost the county money," he said, noting that the county is now paying the two displaced employees instead of the state.

Meanwhile, county transportation planner J. Craig Forrest said he now refers the weekly 10 to 20 Ridesharing callers to the state. And because of the loss of his two workers, he must also administer the county's Vanpool and transit pass programs.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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