Dent in $27 billion transit gap

Rail and bus plan: Glendening proposal does not solve Baltimore's mass-transit deficiencies.

April 08, 2001

IT'S A GOOD start -- a $500 million, six-year effort to boost mass-transit ridership statewide. But much more must happen for the Baltimore area to get the quality public transportation system it deserves.

State legislators last week approved Gov. Parris N. Glendening's transit initiative, his biggest effort ever. While the size of the program was trimmed from $750 million to $500 million, there's much to cheer about: Shuttle buses in city neighborhoods; reduced weekly and monthly fare passes; a statewide "smart card" payment system; Sunday Metro service in Baltimore.

The Mass Transit Administration will replace its aging bus fleet more often, which means the average vehicle eventually will be only 6.5 years old instead of the current nine years.

Baltimore isn't the only beneficiary. The initiative will pay for 50 Metrorail cars and 300 buses in the Washington region. The fast-growing Southern Maryland counties of Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles will see improved service. And public transportation will reach further into Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

But Baltimore's regional transit still resembles a fill-in-the-blanks drawing. The state could connect far more dots with a free downtown shuttle service that would benefit commuters. And the MTA has yet to move boldly on light rail expansion.

The only shuttle service now operating, in Hampden, uses vans that are more neighborhood-friendly than standard buses. The Hamden Shuttle Bug links riders to a light-rail stop and three bus lines.

The next shuttle is planned for West Baltimore, but that service will not reach its potential without a rail link. An east-west light-rail line that ties into the Social Security complex in Woodlawn would make that shuttle part of a more complete system. That's what it will take to draw new riders to public transportation.

The half-billion dollars approved by the General Assembly last week makes a small dent in the state's $27 billion funding gap for transit and highways over the next 20 years.

If Mr. Glendening really wants to solve that problem by the end of his second term, he can't stop here. He must find long-term funding sources for the state's transportation needs.

Neither he nor the legislature has done that yet.

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