Study calls MTA buses old, unreliable, dirty

Citizens report lists shortcomings of service

October 13, 1999|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Bus service in the Baltimore region is being compromised by cutbacks, resulting in a fleet older than the national average and buses that are unreliable and dirty, according to a report being released today by a citizens group.

During a two-month study of Mass Transit Administration bus service, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association also found that:

Few bus operators announce major stops and transfer points, despite being required to do so by their contract and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Buses routinely are sent on the street with broken windows and seats.

Few buses or bus stops provide adequate information about schedules and destinations.

Buses generally run on schedule, though on-time performance drops substantially after noon.

"What we found is a bus system that is lean and mean," said Ralph Moore, a CPHA board member. "These are things that were very clear problems."

Buses received favorable ratings for adequate seating, dependable air conditioning and bus-stop signs.

The study was conducted in July and August along 45 MTA routes. The CPHA and MTA trained a team of five "observers," who rode the buses and evaluated service.

A key finding of the study is the need for more state funding for mass transit.

According to the report, a state law that requires half the system's operating expenses to come from passenger fares is hindering the MTA's ability to correct many of the problems. Other money comes from the state Transportation Trust Fund.

This year, the agency anticipates expenses of $176 million, but its fare box income is expected to be $77 million, leaving a shortfall of about $22 million. "To help compensate, they end up doing things like taking buses off line and postponing maintenance," Moore said.

In 1996, MTA changed its requirement of oil changes and engine overhauls every 30,000 miles. Buses now undergo such maintenance every 60,000 miles. "They are not as quick to repair broken windows or seats," said Moore. "I've been on MTA buses where it was raining inside the bus."

The average age of the 595 buses in the fleet is about 9.5 years, compared with the national average of eight years.

The study also found that on-time performance is worst in midafternoon, when buses have departed several minutes early and arrived as much as 10 minutes late. Buses operating downtown or in inner-city neighborhoods are most likely to fall behind schedule, according to the report.

"We welcome the information," said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown. "We're always concerned and interested in ways we can improve service."

He added, "The cleanliness and efficient operation of equipment is one of our major priorities. The governor wants to double transit ridership by 2020, and to do that we have to have accurate information and clean buses that are on time."

Several programs have been introduced to address the problems, according to the MTA.

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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