Howard transit may add to bus service to hospitals

Plan would extend time elderly, disabled could go to Balto. County, city

April 28, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Disabled and elderly citizens could take buses to hospitals and clinics in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, under spending increases for the Howard Area Transit System proposed by County Executive James N. Robey.

The proposal for HATS-Ride, which would cost approximately $85,000, was described last night at a meeting of the Public Transportation Board in Ellicott City.

Robey has requested $3.8 million for transit programs for fiscal year 2000 -- a 34 percent increase over the $2.5 million allocated for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget was sent to the County Council last week.

Robey, who was elected county executive in November, made a campaign pledge to improve public transportation.

The proposed spending increase could result in a reduction of waiting times for HATS buses, new buses and repairs to several others.

Ray Ambrose, who manages the HATS system as chief administrator for Corridor Transportation Corp., said the budget request represents a positive step.

"In its current form as it's being presented, it includes the high priorities. So you have to be happy with that," said Ambrose, who is in his final week at CTC.

Ambrose will become general manager of operations in Savage for Yellow Transportation Corp., which operates the HATS service. He will be replaced by Peter Hefler on an interim basis.

Under Robey's spending plan, HATS-Ride, which services disabled riders who call at least 24 hours in advance, would add to the three hours it operates buses from Howard County to Baltimore and Baltimore County medical centers and the Howard County Dialysis Center. The schedule runs 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The service also could add an early evening service.

Susan Rosenbaum, deputy director of the county Department of Citizens' Services, said the requested $1.2 million for services for the elderly and disabled represents a 26 percent increase. The increase, if approved, would found the replacement of two buses and add two others.

"This obviously shows [Robey's] commitment," she said. "I'm very pleased that he's seeing the needs and committing the funds to make that happen."

Under Robey's proposal, four buses for the fixed-route, or regular, service would be repaired by the end of the summer; a new bus would be added to the fleet, and HATS would retrofit two more buses with wheelchair lifts.

Jeffry P. Barnett, chairman of the transportation board, said Robey's proposal took the urgency out of a meeting between he and the board last week.

"I expected [the meeting] to be a message of priorities, and it was a nonevent because he requested the full amount," Barnett said.

In other news, Ambrose unveiled ridership figures that show 215,125 users of the HATS service with three months to go in this fiscal year, a 12.4 percent increase over fiscal year 1998.

Ambrose also unveiled the results of a survey of bus riders in the county. They showed a system that had improved but had work to do if it was to increase riders' confidence in the system.

Fares were reasonable and the drivers were courteous, said respondents.

However, 27 percent voiced safety concerns with 51 percent of them saying buses broke down too often and 62 percent criticizing the hours of service.

"It shows an acute need to make improvements and make them in a short period of time," Ambrose said.

Barnett will step down when his term ends in June.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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