Frustrated downtown workers, visitors and residents who cannot find a place to park could soon find relief in a system of shuttle buses.
The Downtown Partnership, a public-private city business group, plans to buy seven buses that could begin shuttling riders as soon as this fall from parking lots at Camden Yards on the edge of downtown to major businesses and attractions.
The partnership, which has been spearheading development of parking garages, said something had to be done to solve the parking and transportation problem immediately.
"It is a deterrent," Michele L. Whelley, the partnership's president, said of the difficulty in parking and getting around downtown.
Some businesses that have moved out of the city have cited parking as a problem. Whelley said some workers who can find parking near their jobs cannot afford the fees, which top $100 a month downtown.
Further, Whelley believes that workers have trouble getting to meetings across downtown, and visitors may be skipping attractions because they are too far.
The partnership expects to pay for a management company and the buses - which could cost from $75,000 to $250,000 apiece - from state coffers, local foundations and corporations.
Total cost of the project has not been determined. The group plans to seek bids through advertisements this weekend for the buses and the management contract.
A fee of 50 cents a ride is expected, and monthly cards purchased by employers may be used by workers who ride to and from the lots each day.
The buses are expected to run seven days a week from the Camden Yards lots north on Calvert or Charles streets and south on Greene Street, among other routes. A wait no longer than five minutes during peak hours is planned.
Whelley said the program is based on services offered in Phoenix, Ariz.; Boulder, Colo.; and Philadelphia, where buses have helped relieve auto congestion.
The partnership has been working on the program for nine months with help from state transportation officials and the nonprofit West Side Renaissance Inc., which promotes urban redevelopment.