Tourist shuttle fails

September 12, 2002

THE EXPERIMENTAL Downtown Area Shuttle was a good idea that was badly implemented. Sad to say, DASH, which will go out of business this Friday, never really had a chance.

The service was created six months ago as an add-on to a parking shuttle intended for downtown commuters. Since that shuttle, which will continue and is currently used by about 800 daily riders, was the main focus, DASH operated on a strange schedule -- from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. -- so that its buses could be used to carry commuters during rush hours.

Not surprisingly, tourists found the arrangement confusing. Fewer than 200 a day rode its route, which ran from the Convention Center to Inner Harbor East to Mount Vernon.

DASH is the third Baltimore tourist bus route to fail in the past 20 years. This suggests strongly that a tourist-oriented downtown shuttle is not viable. Nevertheless, several booster groups continue talking about a tourist line that would serve the Walters Art Museum, the Baltimore Zoo and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Undoubtedly, visitors -- both from Baltimore and out of town -- should have convenient transit service to those institutions. But a dedicated line may not be the answer.

A far more promising approach would be to extend the existing Mondawmin Metro Shuttle Bug to the nearby zoo and to expand the Hampden Shuttle Bug to include the BMA in its itinerary, which starts at the Woodberry Light Rail stop.

Perhaps the whole Baltimore transit setup is so confusing that few tourists -- or natives -- would use such expanded routes. But extensions would give the two major attractions regular bus service, and do so at a negligible additional cost.

Running bus services may be difficult, but it's not exactly rocket science, either. Without convenient, easy-to-understand and frequent schedules, chances of success are slim. DASH has proved that again.

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