Seeking better transit options

New coalition to meet in a push to improve public transportation

`Not just a rah-rah rally'

Owens opposes buying buses, operating system

Anne Arundel

October 24, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The first and last time Ann Fligsten took the bus from Arnold to Annapolis she couldn't find a schedule and had to trample through weeds to reach the bus stop.

"If it's so hard to take a bus and you have a car, you're not going to take the bus," she said, adding that she has found others who agree with her.

A group of Anne Arundel County residents seeking more public transportation options will gather Wednesday for the first meeting of what organizers believe is the county's broadest coalition ever to fight for transit.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's Anne Arundel County edition incorrectly reported the type of bus that a passenger, Ann Fligsten, says she had trouble boarding. It was a Maryland Transit Administration bus.
The Sun regrets the error.

Of the state's eight most populous jurisdictions, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties are the only two that don't provide their own public bus service. Instead, Anne Arundel County helps pay for a patchwork of public and private bus services that don't connect.

Ten groups, as diverse as the Historic Annapolis Foundation and a group that advocates for improved transportation for the disabled, will participate in the meeting. It begins at 7 p.m. in Room 219 of the Cade Building at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold. The meeting is open to the public.

"It's not just a rah-rah public transportation rally," said Fligsten, the coalition organizer and president of the Arnold Preservation Council. "It's to begin to get organized on a county level."

Anne Arundel County helps subsidize the Annapolis public transportation system, which operates five routes that run into the county - including the Annapolis/Arnold route Fligsten recently rode.

The county also provides funding for Corridor Transportation Corp., an affiliate of the Baltimore-Washington Chamber of Commerce that runs routes from Howard and Prince George's counties into northwest Anne Arundel.

And the Maryland Transit Administration operates buses within the county, mostly commuter routes to the Washington area.

But the services aren't linked.

"The more people we can get together to work on transportation issues in the county, the better for everyone," said Terri Nyman, development director for the Arc of Anne Arundel County, which provides care and support to people with disabilities. "For us to try to develop a transportation system just for people with disabilities is kind of narrow. There are all kinds of people who need transportation."

The coalition is seeking input on specifics, but it wants a countywide system that could include buses or rail, Fligsten said.

The county recently submitted a plan to the state that would allow Anne Arundel to receive state funding. The plan calls for the creation of 20 bus routes within five years, but a county official acknowledges that it is "pie in the sky." The plan's real purpose, Anne Arundel officials said, is to allow the county to apply for state and federal funding. The county would use that money to hire bus contractors.

County Executive Janet S. Owens has said she will not get into the business of buying buses and operating a county system.

With the state facing a budget shortfall next fiscal year of hundreds of millions of dollars, it's a tough time to be seeking money. Also, Owens - whose attention, Fligsten said, the coalition is hoping to attract - recently launched a public relations campaign to tell residents that more government services will require more taxes.

"Everybody's worried about the budget," Fligsten said, "but if you don't think beyond right now, you never get further than you are right now.

"We don't expect major changes tomorrow or right now. I only think the need for transit is going to grow ... and when you hear everyone clamoring for it, it will be a little late."

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