Seven shiny shuttle buses - painted bright yellow, green and royal blue - were set to make their debut on the streets of downtown Baltimore this morning, part of a new service designed to help ease the parking crunch that causes hassles for area workers and visitors.
The Downtown Area Shuttle, known as DASH, is expected to carry about 300 passengers today, said Michele L. Whelley, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., one of the partners in the DASH initiative.
Workers who arrange, through their employers, to use the service will pay $50 a month for parking at a lot near PSINet Stadium and unlimited rides anywhere on DASH's two routes. The buses also will carry "leisure" riders who live downtown or want to visit downtown attractions without driving from one place to another. The fare for single rides is 50 cents.
Buses will run weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with service every five minutes from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and every 20 minutes at other times. The buses will operate on weekends from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with service every 20 minutes.
Nine employers, including Legg Mason Inc., Constellation Energy Group and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, have signed up for DASH service, with additional contracts in the works, Whelley said.
"We're eagerly looking to be able to service as many employees and as many riders as we possibly can," she said.
Whelley estimated that the number of riders will double in the next two months, and increase to 1,000 or more by the end of the year.
In addition to the Downtown Partnership and downtown businesses, DASH partners include Baltimore, the Maryland Department of Transportation, the Maryland Stadium Authority, and WestSide Renaissance Inc. The shuttle is being funded with a $5.9 million state grant.
A celebration - with doughnuts, juice and DASH mugs - is scheduled for this morning to welcome the first group of riders.
Whelley said the new buses will be easy to spot.
"You will not be able to miss them on the street," she said.