Expanded bus service is sought for U.S. 1 Legislation targets Balto.-D.C. corridor

February 21, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A resolution drafted by a Howard County state delegate could be the first step in expanding bus service in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, a move that area employers say is needed by a growing number of their workers.

"Growth is occurring, and the need for service is not being met by [bus] companies in the cities," said Ray Ambrose, a project administrator of the Corridor Transportation Corp. (CTC). "What we're looking at is ways to meet the demand out there."

If passed, the legislation filed Wednesday by Del. Shane Pendergrass, an east Columbia Democrat, would create a 12-member task force to study the feasibility of forming a Transit Management District managed by CTC.

Pendergrass said the goal is to provide an interconnected network of bus routes throughout the corridor.

"Many people live on one side and work on the other," she said. "The bottom line is to help people."

CTC, a private nonprofit company, already manages the bus service in the Laurel area and the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS) in Howard County.

Ambrose said CTC is considering expanding its routes to accommodate the burgeoning number of residents and businesses in the corridor along U.S. 1 between Baltimore and Washington.

Area businesses applaud the concept.

"It would definitely be an improvement over what's here now," said David Zeitchick, president of Crown Manufacturing Inc. in Savage.

He said about two-thirds of the company's 31 employees rely on car pools to get to work. "What's here now is zero," Zeitchick said.

There are thousands of other entry-level warehouse, packing and distribution jobs in Howard County that pay an average of $6 to $8 an hour, often too low to allow workers to afford to live in the county -- one of the wealthiest in the nation.

Those are the workers who need to be targeted for the effort, said Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

"Many people who work in the corridor don't live in the corridor," he said, adding that about 41,000 employees commute to the county every morning. "We need to find ways to get those people in."

CTC has been managing Connect-a-Ride, the bus service in the greater Laurel area that has covered southeastern Howard, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties since the first bus rolled out onto local streets in 1989, Ambrose said.

A Connect-a-Ride route from the Laurel Centre Mall to the Mall in Columbia has been running for more than two years.

Last July, CTC assumed the reins of HATS, formerly called ColumBUS, a $1 million-a-year operation run by Columbia Association and funded by federal, state, county and Columbia Association sources.

There are about 200 stops with about 250,000 riders per year in the county, Ambrose said. Another 300,000 use Connect-a-Ride in Laurel annually.

And last week, CTC submitted a plan to the Maryland Public Service Commission to extend routes to the western end of the county.

Ambrose said 75 percent of CTC's operating budget comes from federal, state and county funds. Fares and advertising revenue make up the remaining 25 percent, he said.

The bill, which will have a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing before the House Commerce and Governmental Matters Committee, would allow a task force to look into creating a state-funded district to provide bus service linking the eastern portion of Howard and Montgomery counties, western Anne Arundel and northern Prince George's.

Karen O'Neill, coordinator of the Howard County Office of Commuter Assistance, said a survey of employees commuting to the U.S. 1 corridor two years ago by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council showed that more than 64 percent did not have access to public transportation.

As a result of the survey, last November the BWI Business Partnership Inc. started a program called Spirit Shuttle, which transports commuters from the Jessup and Dorsey MARC commuter train stations to area companies.

Even so, Robert Smelkinson, chairman of Smelkinson Sysco in Jessup, which is on the shuttle route, said several prospective employees have been forced to turn down job offers due to the lack of public transportation.

"We're shortchanged by that," he said. "That person could have been an employee we would have liked to have, but we couldn't."

Ronald Hendler, chief operating officer of Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, said only 6 percent of the hospital's 500 employees use public transportation.

He said the nearest Mass Transit Administration bus stop from Baltimore is three-quarters of a mile away from the hospital. "In the middle of winter or a cold rain, it's not fun to walk just to get the service," Hendler said. "It's hard to attract staff that way."

But a word of caution came from Daniel J. Maletic, chairman of the transportation committee for the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. While he said he supports an expanded bus system, Maletic points out that the HATS route between the Columbia Gateway Industrial Park and Elkridge is serving only about 20 riders a day.

"I'm not sure if there's a demand there," Maletic said. "We would just urge caution that whatever ends up being done gets a reasonable recovery rate."

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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