Light rail, lightweight MTA: Transit system flunked the test to get Ravens fans to the opening game and back home.

August 13, 1998

SATURDAY night's NFL contest was a preseason game for the Baltimore Ravens, but it was the Super Bowl for the Mass Transit Administration. Unfortunately, the MTA fumbled the opportunity to show that it was ready for the big time.

The transit system failed miserably at proving that buses and light rail could deliver fans to the stadium and back with the efficiency of a two-minute drill.

Instead, many riders who reached light rail stops early missed the opening kickoff. With the heavy demand, one packed car after another passed them by at their stations.

Things seemed to be equally bad after the game. Too many riders, not enough transit cars.

Unfortunately, the delayed ride home will be the last ride on light rail for some angry ticket holders, who no longer will hesitate to drive, especially after hearing the post-game reports of light auto traffic.

If too many of them turn to private cars, they will face gridlock.

A better answer is more transit riders on park-and-ride buses and fewer on light rail. All of this is confusing and frustrating, of course, for football fans who have been urged repeatedly to use the rail line.

As bad as things appear, however, traveling by mass transit should not be as rough for most Ravens games. The two preseason contests, including Aug. 24's game, are at night. At 11 p.m., most fans want to go directly home after the final gun.

But seven of the eight regular season home games will be played on weekend afternoons. Fans milling around the Inner Harbor and downtown restaurants after those games could thin out the bee-line for the stadium's light rail station.

MTA has limitations, particularly a single rail line that has only one track for northbound and southbound cars at some points.

Still, it is up to transit officials to meet rider demand for big events. Simply playing Monday morning quarterback cannot win football games, and it cannot win the confidence of riders.

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