Smooth travel, some concerns

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 31, 1999

I use public transportation to commute to work. The light rail line is about 2.5 miles from my home and less than one block from my job.

The advantages of that system are that it saves money on parking and gives me time to read.

The light rail's disadvantages include insufficient parking, poor bus connections and its ludicrous ticket purchasing system. Also, the trains can be slow, it's a long time between trains and the stations provide almost no protection from the elements.

And I sometimes have the feeling the light rail line was built because the money to build it was available, not because anyone was trying to get people where they were going.

Helen Naviasky, Baltimore

I do not ride the Baltimore Metro on a regular basis because I work in Rockville. But, on occasion, I use it to get to a meeting in downtown Baltimore. The station is near my home.

I avoid traffic and high parking fees downtown, and the fare is inexpensive.

But what drives me crazy every time I do ride the Metro is the process of getting a ticket.

I cannot buy one with dollar bills directly. I first have to exchange the dollar bill for a dollar coin, then go to the other side of the entryway to exchange the dollar coin and other coins for a ticket.

With all our modern payment devices, why can't we put the bills directly into the ticket machine?

Washington's Metro's fare system is much more efficient and sophisticated. There, you can put a certain amount of money on your fare card, and after each trip the appropriate amount is deducted. I'd like to see a similar system on the Baltimore Metro.

I do applaud the Metro for the free rides on July 4.

I was watching the fireworks at the Inner Harbor at 9: 30 p.m. and was back at Milford Mill Metro station by 10: 30 pm.

George Lunn, Baltimore

I have used the light rail system to reach ball games at Camden Yards, performances at the Joseph A. Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Lyric Opera House and to get to the Walters Art Gallery and the the Maryland Historical Society.

But my best experience with the light rail was a trip to the Baltimore Arena to see the circus with my grandchildren, who are 6 and 4 years old.

The circus was great. We cheered the trapeze artists, clapped for the elephants and held our breath as the motorcyclists did somersaults.

We bought the glowing wands that lasted through the evening and ate throughout the long intermission.

But when we got home and asked the kids what they liked best about the afternoon, their answer was: "Our ride on the light rail."

Ruth Wheeler, Towson

From my front porch in Cardiff, the old port city of Baltimore is more than an hour's drive away, including a monotonous stretch along one of Maryland's most dangerous roads.

But no danger, no beltway mergers and no stress accompany the light rail ride through the McCormick Co.'s spice island, Warren Road's surreal quarries, Timonium's urbanization and into the city's vibrant heart.

As I step off the light rail for Artscape or to join the crowds at Camden Yards, I face no parking problems. And with the money I've saved on parking, I can afford to indulge at Harborplace.

On top of those advantages are the pleasures of the train itself. Nothing can top that romantic ambience of a train ride -- and the light rail features clean cars at a perfect temperature with enormous picture windows -- and wonderful passengers.

My favorite memory among the many acts of neighborliness I've seen on the light rail is of the two joyous girls who, in a standing-room-only car, offered their seats to all adults who came on board. What is even more memorable is that everyone thanked them, but no one took their seats.

From my front porch, I see the placid sweetness of small-town life. But thanks to the light rail system, I also have access to the infinite variety of life in a major city.

I love the excitement of coming into Baltimore and plan to move to the city when I retire. I can't wait to explore public transportation.

Lea Billingslea, Cardiff

I have several reasons for not using public transportation, the major one being concern for my safety.

In 1993, when I was four months pregnant, I took the light rail from Timonium to Camden station. The ride in was untroubled, but my return trip in the afternoon was a nightmare.

Few people were in the light rail car with me. One man, who appeared to be either drunk or high, kept glancing at me and mumbling things having to do with killing a major segment of the American population.

At one of the last stops in the city, everyone got off the car except this man and me. I was very afraid to change to a different car, not wanting to draw attention to myself.

When someone else did get on and sat in our car, I rested more easily -- until the newcomer brought out a bottle in a bag and started drinking.

The combative man got off at the Ridgely Road station, so I felt I could get off safely at the Timonium park and ride.

But I now refuse to take the light rail unless it's at peak travel time and my husband is with me.

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