Local transit system backed Residents at forum oppose bringing in Balto. County network

'A real concern here'

June 07, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County residents have consistently opposed bringing public transportation in from Baltimore, but they might support expanding Carroll Transit, a bus system that operates 19 vans in the Westminster area.

The concept came from a forum organized Friday by state transportation planners in Westminster. Many of the 30 participants viewed Carroll Transit, a private, nonprofit company that primarily serves the elderly and disabled, as the answer to public transportation needs.

"We should connect all major activity centers in all municipalities," said Janet Gregor, county transportation planner. "We need longer hours, weekend hours and more routes."

The forum at Carroll Community College was organized by the Mass Transit Administration (MTA) and is one of 24 gatherings scheduled across the state this summer.

The MTA has visited Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties, but drew the largest crowd in Westminster.

In a two-hour session, consultants heard people oppose public transportation and speak about the need for it, particularly as more people move from welfare to work.

"The themes we are hearing are all fairly typical, but there seems to be less interest here for expanded public transportation," said Harvey Zelefsky, MTA manager of planning. "What we are hearing here is the need for more local transportation."

Much discussion centered on Carroll Transit, but other suggestions included employer incentives to encourage carpooling, reviving the rail system and linking Carroll to Howard and Frederick counties by bus or train.

The mention of public transportation generally raises fears of crime and rampant growth in Carroll. But a recent survey of cars parked at the Metro station in Owings Mills by the Carroll County Department of Planning shows many county drivers are using the system.

"People are using transportation, but they are cautious about having it cross Carroll County borders," said Gregor. "I get calls all the time from people who say they have heard a bus is coming to their neighborhood. It is a real concern here."

Three years ago, at the request of local officials, MTA surveyed 13,000 Carroll residents to measure interest in a bus service from the county to the Owings Mills Metro station in northwest Baltimore County. The survey showed little interest.

But as Carroll's major roads become increasingly crowded, and with nearly 80 percent of its working population commuting from the county daily, public transportation may become more attractive.

As it prepares the Maryland Comprehensive Transit Plan, MTA has conducted telephone surveys and organized focus groups to gauge support for expanding routes into areas that lack public transportation.

"Large majorities of respondents support expanding public transportation and improving existing public transportation," the survey reported.

MTA has scheduled forums in all 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore.

"We will compare what has been said in every county," said Zelefsky, who expects a draft plan and regional public workshops this fall.

Carroll forum participants also stressed the need for education programs to allay residents' concerns. Del. Ellen Willis Miller, a Carroll Democrat, called the forum productive, but said she would have preferred more citizen involvement.

"Carroll County has been cautious about expanding mass transit, but globally we have to do something about transportation," Willis Miller said.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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