MTA plan includes 25-cent higher fare, reduction in service

State transit officials say proposed changes would take effect in summer

April 17, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Bus, subway and light rail fares would rise from $1.35 to $1.60 starting July 1 under a budget-balancing plan of fare increases and service reductions to be announced today by state transportation officials.

In addition to raising fares across the board, the Maryland Transit Administration plans to eliminate one local bus line, three commuter buses and three Maryland Rail Commuter trains after years of service expansions as the state attempted to build transit ridership.

But in a dismal budget climate, those days are over. The cuts are targeted to the lines with the fewest riders, and officials expect the impact to be minimal. Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the state's commitment to transit remains strong.

"The state of Maryland is still in there, up at the plate, swinging away on this effort" to boost ridership, he said. "We are putting a lot of taxpayers' dollars toward supporting these services. But we have to be careful and balanced in the decisions we make."

The service cuts would save about $2.6 million, while the fare increase would bring in an additional $12 million, officials estimate. A final decision on the fare increase, which would be the first since 1996, won't be made until after 20 public hearings are held in mid-May. A list of hearings can be found on the MTA's Web site, www.mtamaryland.com, starting tomorrow.

Particularly hard hit would be the Shuttle Bug program in the Hampden and Mondawmin neighborhoods. Shuttle fares would double to $1 and the buses would run less frequently.

The measures would help the MTA meet the state requirement that fares account for 40 percent of its operating cost. This year, fares accounted for 35 percent.

Transit advocates are dismayed at the plan. They had been bracing for a fare increase to $1.50, which had been detailed in state budget documents, but they were surprised to hear of the planned $1.60 fare.

"That's outrageous," said Eugene Peterson, co-chairman of the Transit Riders League. "This is an example of the Ehrlich administration's callous disregard for people who use transit."

Transportation officials said the fare increase would result in a less than 1 percent decrease in ridership. But an industry rule of thumb is that for every 10 percent increase in fares, ridership will decline by 4 percent.

"Your choices are reduced service or raised fares - those are two things many transit agencies are faced with," said Amy Coggin, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association.

The local bus line slated to be cut is the No. 86 from Towson to Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn. The commuter buses to be cut are the No. 731 from Perryville to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the No. 210 from Kent Island/Annapolis to Baltimore and another from New Carrollton to Bethesda.

The state also plans to cut the last evening MARC Camden line train leaving Washington (No. 858) and the last evening Camden train leaving Baltimore (No. 859). Also, the final two Brunswick line trains out of Washington would be combined.

The cuts would take effect in early summer.

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