Horse collar or proper restraint on transit?

December 13, 1997

Your Dec. 1 editorial titled "Horse collar on mass transit" touches on only a part of Maryland's transportation problem.

You assert that the main cause of the lack of success of public transit is the requirement that one half of its operating revenues be recovered by customer fares.

In other words, consumers of mass transit pay only half the cost of operating the systems.

The cities you cite that have lesser fare box return requirements pay for public transit with regional or local tax bases. Who pays the rest of public transit costs in Maryland? Answer: owners and operators of trucks and automobiles.

Motorists and highway users subsidize public transit in Maryland unlike any other state in the country.

In fact, public transit operating costs (keeping trains running) and capital costs (building new rail lines) combined eat up more than 40 percent of the entire transportation budget, while serving about 15 percent of peak hour commuters and less than three percent of daily trips.

The 50 percent fare box return requirement, which was relaxed for new transit lines in 1996 legislation, keeps some constraint on a government program that has an insatiable appetite for money.

Paying for transit out of highway user funds has had a devastating effect on Maryland's ability to fund road improvements.

New project starts are down by more than a third this year. These improvements would stimulate the economy and cause businesses to want to locate in Maryland.

Taking even more money from an anemic highway repair program is not the answer.

House of Delegates Speaker Casper Taylor and others have advocated serious study of alternatives to our current system of transportation funding.

This is the way to go. Mass transit needs new funding sources, not carte blanche to spend transportation trust fund money at will.

Robert E. Latham

Glen Burnie

The writer is executive director of Marylanders for Efficient and Safe Highways

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Thank you for your editorial of Dec. titled "Horse collar on mass transit."

This questions the law that requires Marylanders to fund 50 percent of its mass transit expenditures via fares and points out that only two other American cities (Chicago and Philadelphia both with much older, concentrated and synergistic transit systems) operate under similar strictures.

In contrast, Baltimore's mass transit operates under every conceivable disadvantage, e.g. suburbanites who hate it, businesses blackmailing the city into building more parking lots, and a crazy quilt-work of lunatic highway schemes (both built and contemplated) while a one-track light rail languishes.

It is shameful that Baltimore's car-less poor must shell out much of the required 50 percent fare box revenues. The light rail, subway and MARC lines do well just to survive.

It is my understanding that these are thriving and exceeding projections.

Mass transit will do even better when more is built. How did the subway, light rail and MARC all miss the Social Security Administration, the world's largest bureaucracy, and Columbia? Other "can't miss" venues include Greenbelt, the Rotunda, Annapolis, White Marsh, and any college or hospital in the metro area.

Paul R. Schlitz Jr.

Baltimore

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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