New routes expand county bus service

Drive: Silver and purple lines are aimed at getting commuters and seniors on board.

April 16, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Howard County used to be a place where almost everyone had to have a car to get around.

But a county-owned bus system is gradually changing that, providing increased access to shopping and other services for seniors and commuters who would prefer to ride the bus to BWI or the MARC stations on the county's eastern edge.

Two new routes inaugurated this week will offer expanded service in Ellicott City and along the county's U.S. 1 corridor.

Some commuters are already taking advantage of the new service. Charles Hillman, 50, took the bus for the first time yesterday. Getting to his job at the Crab Shanty on U.S. 40 from his home in Baltimore requires three different buses, but "it's worth it," he said.

Hillman thinks the new line should reduce his lengthy commute.

Delays in delivering new buses postponed inauguration of the new routes, originally scheduled to start service early this year, said Carl Balser, chief of transportation planning for the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

In the eastern part of the county, commuters can take advantage of the "purple" route, which replaces two free shuttles that traveled along the northern and southern halves of U.S. 1 during rush hour on weekdays. The bus now connects MARC stations in Dorsey and Laurel as well as the senior center and library in Savage. It costs adults $1 a ride.

The new bus line provides continuous service whereas the former shuttles did not connect with each other, said Ray Ambrose, transit administrator for Corridor Transportation Corp., which operates buses in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

The new "silver" line stops at the Ellicott City Senior Center, the Wal-Mart on North Ridge Road and Park View senior community from Monday to Saturday. It overlaps with some of the "yellow" bus route, which connects The Mall in Columbia with Ellicott City. On Saturday, the bus also travels to Normandy Center and Millennium Health and Rehabilitation, formerly St. Agnes.

Carla Bueller, Ellicott City Senior Center director, hopes that some of the center's visitors will be able to use the regular bus service, which comes about every 45 minutes and costs 25 cents for those 60 and older with a reduced-fare identification card.

Using the county's paratransit service is more expensive. "To spend $2 to get here and $2 to go home, it adds up," Bueller said. "We're really trying to move some people from paratransit to this, especially in good weather."

To encourage use of the silver line, she plans to ride the bus with groups of seniors next week to help them become familiar with the route.

Problems with the timing of buses on the circular yellow line made it illogical for seniors to use, she said. It would take riders about five minutes to arrive at the senior center from apartments on Chatham Road, but almost 90 minutes to return.

The silver service should alleviate that problem, said Ambrose. "When you combine both those routes, it's almost a 20-minute frequency" of buses, he noted.

Electronic message boards at bus stops around the county advertise the new service, but they do not display times for those routes yet, Ambrose said.

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