Flying buses' in Maryland

Rural connections: State subsidy for regional air service could spur economic development.

April 22, 2000

IF STATE GOVERNMENT can subsidize bus and rail service, why can't it do the same for airlines serving Western Maryland and Southern Maryland?

That's the question House Speaker Casper R. Taylor of Cumberland posed to his colleagues in Annapolis. They agreed with him that the state should undertake a three-year experiment to see if a subsidy could make commuting by air a flying success.

State economic development officials are excited about the prospects. It's the geographic isolation of towns in those regions that deters businesses from locating there. But with daily air service in and out of BWI Airport, these communities become more appealing to corporate relocation specialists.

Under the bill passed in Annapolis, the state will spend up to $5 million underwriting air service to Cumberland and Hagerstown in the far west and to Leonardtown in Southern Maryland. All three could benefit immensely.

This is the sort of "outside the box" thinking that government needs to do more often. Sure, it's a gamble -- the first in the nation, actually -- but the potential rewards are well worth the risk.

Mr. Taylor called this the equivalent of "flying buses," since so many of the flyers will be commuters. Already, nine airlines have expressed interest in subsidized service to these locations.

Community support for this effort will be pivotal. That may mean city and county subsidies, local advertising and marketing efforts and a firm commitment from local businesses to maximize their use of this convenient air service.

Can it work? Absolutely. Especially if community leaders create the same sort of enthusiasm and support for regional air flights that Mr. Taylor generated in Annapolis.

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