Ride program could get state help

Regional approach may help increase numbers, officials say

April 05, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll planning officials are hoping to boost participation in the county's seldom-used ride-sharing program by encouraging the state to take charge of it.

The effort to get the state to hire a program manager comes in the wake of the Carroll commissioners' decision to eliminate the position of commuter transportation coordinator from the county payroll. The three-member Board of County Commissioners announced the staff change Feb. 24 as part of a government reorganization that had been in the works for months.

"We were not experiencing a lot of success with the program. It's hard to get people to change their behavior, to leave their cars at home," said county planning director Steven Horn, a former transportation planner who was promoted as part of the staff shake-up. "By taking the program to a higher level, we think it will have more regional appeal."

Horn is hoping to attract Carroll commuters who work as far away as Baltimore and Washington. The majority of ride-share participants travel within the county, he said.

Though Carroll, with a population of 150,000, is one of the state's fastest-growing counties, it has one of the metropolitan area's lowest ride-share participation rates. County figures show that fewer than 100 people are registered in car or van pools.

The lack of interest in ride-sharing programs in Carroll -- where more than 60 percent of the working population commutes to jobs outside the county -- perplexes local planners. Carroll residents have the longest median travel time to work of the counties in the Baltimore region, a recent planning study shows.

Promoting benefits

County officials have tried to encourage ride sharing by promoting the benefits: People who carpool to work spend less money on gas, oil changes and parking than those who commute alone; the wear and tear on their vehicles is also less.

The number of participants in the county ride-share program doubled -- from 39 to 78 -- from 1997 to last year. Still, that higher number was far less than the department had hoped for when it established the program in 1991.

Howard County has about 1,000 commuters registered in its ride-share program. Montgomery County has about 16,000 participants, and Anne Arundel County has about 21,000. Baltimore County helped about 250 people find rides last year. .

Fewer participants

Only Harford County has fewer participants than Carroll -- 67 at last count. But Harford has a public transportation system, which may account for the lack of interest in ride sharing. Carroll has no public transportation out of the county.

To encourage participation, Horn has asked the state's Mass Transit Administration to appoint a regional director for the program through the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a regional planning organization.

The MTA oversees the region's ride-sharing programs and provides financial support. Carroll receives $50,000 in state and federal funding through the agency each year for its program.

Studying regulations

"Someone from the BMC handles Baltimore County's program. It's an option for Carroll," said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown. "Right now, we're looking at the regulations to see where we go from here."

Under new federal guidelines, the transit administration may have to request competitive bids from various agencies before deciding who will run Carroll's commuter program in fiscal year 2000, Brown said. Until July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, the transit administration will operate the program with help from the county planning department.

For information on Carroll's ride-sharing program, call 800- 492-3757.

Pub Date: 4/05/99

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