Elkton to retain bus to Newark, Del.

Cecil Co. commissioners supply $10,000 for service

December 05, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

ELKTON - This northeastern Maryland town will retain its public transportation link to Newark, Del., with connections to bigger cities such as Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, thanks to a new influx of transportation funding from the Cecil County Board of Commissioners.

On Tuesday, board President Nelson K. Bolender is to hand over a $10,000 check to the Delaware Transit Corp., which operates the bus service between Elkton and Newark.

The county's contribution ensures the continuation of the Monday-through-Friday bus service between the two cities, but the number of daily trips is expected to decline in the spring.

The county's check helps offset the loss of $75,000 a year in Maryland funding for the bus service. There were concerns that the Ehrlich administration's elimination of financial support would end the service launched in December 2000.

"That's a lot of money for Cecil County," Anthony J. DiGiacomo, a principal planner with the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said of the $10,000, "but its just a small part of the cost of the service."

He said Delaware pays about $250,000 a year to keep the service in operation.

DiGiacomo said the DTC recognized that the county had limited financial capability. "They viewed our token contribution as a goodwill gesture and our recognition of the importance of the service."

He said Delaware was considering shutting down the service when Maryland withdrew its funding.

In February, when the Maryland Transit Administration said it would eliminate its participation in the bus service, MTA spokesman Walter Hayes said, "It's mainly a budget decision."

He said riders pay 3 percent of the cost of the Elkton-to-Newark service, which is below the 7 percent the MTA seeks for a bus service.

The MTA said the bus service carried 0.12 passengers per mile and that its minimum acceptable rate was 0.15 passengers per mile.

Mike Williams, a DTC spokesman, said the 39 trips between Elkton and Newark carry about 80 passengers a day.

"The people on the other side of the border looked only at this number," said Williams. "They didn't look at the fact that the service is growing. In December of 2000, when we first started, we were only carrying 12 passengers a day."

"According to the 2000 census," DiGiacomo said, "we have over 14,000 people in Cecil County who commute to work in New Castle County, [Del.] And over 3,000 commute from New Castle to Cecil County each day.

"It's an important service," said DiGiacomo, who rides the bus daily from his home in Newark to his job in Elkton. "We're looking for ways to ease the flow of traffic and to reduce air pollution. This is part of the solution."

He said the bus also provides an economic development benefit to both towns by providing public transportation to employment centers.

Dr. Kenneth S. Lewis, president and chief executive of Union Hospital of Cecil County, is also an advocate of the bus line. He said the hospital is expanding and needs to bring in new employees, many of whom live in Delaware. "From a labor perspective, public transportation is critical to our operation," he said.

Lewis said the hospital's emergency room deals with patients every day who have no other means of transportation to the hospital.

"This bus route is very important," said Mary Jo Jablonski, manager of the Elkton Alliance, a private-sector economic development agency. "It's a link to the outside world. A lot of people use it to go to Newark and then make connections to Wilmington. Once they get to Wilmington, they can use the train to go to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington."

She said the bus is also used by senior citizens going to Newark for tax-free shopping.

The service features 15- to 20-passenger minibuses. The first bus goes on the road at 5:45 a.m., and the service halts at 8 p.m.

Williams said some of the less-used midday runs would be eliminated when the DTC makes schedule changes in May. He said it is too soon to say how many trips will be dropped to help offset the loss of Maryland funding.

Despite this setback, Bolender sees the possibility of "bigger and better things down the road."

"If it keeps growing and attracts more riders, hopefully the state will see the benefits of the service and contribute some money," he said.

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