Downtown shuttle is retooled

Tourist route dropped

service to parking lots for commuters beefed up

August 27, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The shuttle bus rolled up North Charles Street yesterday toward the Washington Monument with only the driver on board -- a waste of money that the system's organizers hope will soon end.

The experimental Downtown Area Shuttle, or DASH, is being retooled six months after it debuted with a goal of relieving a parking crunch in the congested heart of the city.

New routes are among several changes intended to make the shuttle system more responsive to the nearly 800 commuters from 54 businesses who park at lots near Ravens Stadium and ride the shuttle buses to office buildings several blocks away. "The commuter side has been incredible, and we know we can make it better," said Michele L. Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. The business group is overseeing the shuttle system's use of a $5.9 million state grant.

Organizers had hoped to attract 1,200 riders by the end of February -- a target that might be hit by year's end. Yet riders, who pay $50 a month to park at the stadium-area lots instead of in downtown garage spaces that can cost $150 to $225 a month, have pushed for improvements.

The changes will be possible with the elimination of the so-called "blue route" that was meant to take tourists to Mount Vernon and the doorstep of Little Italy. That route will be scrapped Sept. 13 because of low ridership, and all weekend service will end for the same reason.

Beginning Sept. 30, two routes will cater mainly to commuters.

The West Route will make stops on Baltimore and Greene streets in the vicinity of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The route will primarily serve employees of the university, its medical system and Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The Central Route -- a modification of an existing route -- will travel east on Pratt Street, north on Calvert Street, west on Fayette Street, south on Hopkins Place and west on Lombard Street before heading south on Greene Street.

In addition to the route changes, service will be more frequent during both morning and afternoon rush hours. And circulating buses will return to the stadium parking lots all day, making it easier for workers to use their cars in emergencies. Now, riders have to go to the Baltimore Convention Center before taking a designated connector bus to the lots.

A portion of the state grant will pay for two smaller buses similar to airport shuttles. They will be added to the existing fleet of eight brightly painted buses, each 30 feet long with 25 seats and room for 25 people to stand.

Overall, Downtown Partnership officials say the shuttle system is exceeding expectations. The number of cars being left at the stadium lots would fill a fairly large parking garage.

Officials believe there still might be demand for a tourist route but that the need for it was not as critical as that for an improved commuter route.

"The way we had it set up, it was not attracting ridership," said Lisa Raimundo, the partnership's vice president of economic development.

Lisa S. Kier, executive director of the Mount Vernon Cultural District, said her group is pondering whether it makes sense to pursue a tourist shuttle. Cost is one drawback, she said, and another is the uncertain demand.

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