Public transport sees an increase in rider numbers Further improvement expected in near future, Howard officials say

October 29, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

More Howard County residents have used local bus service during the first quarter of the fiscal year than during the same period of the past fiscal year, local bus officials announced this week.

During July, August and September, more than 23,000 additional riders boarded buses operated by the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS) and Connect-A-Ride -- the county's two largest public transportation services.

The number is an encouraging sign for Corridor Transportation Corp. (CTC), a Laurel company that the county hired two years ago to oversee the transformation of the public transportation system.

"We said things were going to get better," CTC transit administrator Ray Ambrose said Tuesday night, when he shared the statistics with the Public Transportation Board. "I think they have."

It was only last year when passengers lodged more than 30 complaints against the two bus systems, which were criticized for unreliable service and maintenance problems.

But with the addition of two new buses, the creation of a 22-member Passenger Advisory Group and improved coordination between CTC and Yellow Transportation Inc. of Savage, which operates the bus systems, the complaints have dwindled in frequency and intensity.

In July and August, 151,591 riders used HATS and Connect-A-Ride. By comparison, 128,064 passengers used the bus systems during the same period last year.

The bus services have experienced increases across the board, with the exception of the HATS west route, which has since been converted to a demand-response system.

Jeffry Barnett, chairman of the Public Transportation Board, said he is pleased by the numbers and expects them to increase.

"Higher numbers justify the existence of the service," Barnett said. "There's more capacity in the system, and that's what we would like to see utilized."

But Carl Balser, the county's transportation planning chief, noted that federal and state support was $129,675 short of the $1.1 million operating aid that CTC had requested last year.

"While the cost of running the systems will gradually increase, funding has remained static," Balser said. "We've been successful in squeezing the fat from the systems, but now we're pretty lean."

While CTC officials are pleased with the rise in ridership, Ambrose said the company remains intent on reviving the HATS west route and considering other new routes.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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