MTA buses ready to roll into route changes

New service also means end to usual stop for some

Maryland

October 23, 2005|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

Sweeping changes to Baltimore area bus routes take effect Sunday, part of what the Maryland Transit Administration is calling a "new, improved, expanded" bus system.

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan says the changes to about 30 routes will bring better service - with bigger and more frequent buses on many lines and improved on-time performance - for tens of thousands of customers.

"We are poised for a successful transformation of the MTA," Flanagan said.

But for Robin Dranbauer and her neighbors in the eastern Baltimore County neighborhood of Chesaco Park, the MTA's new Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative looks more like a cutback.

Hers is one of several neighborhoods and employment centers that will lose bus service as the MTA tries to simplify and streamline its route structure.

Dranbauer, a 46-year-old administrative assistant, said her nearest bus stop now is almost 2 miles away. As she sees it, the MTA no longer wants her and about nine other regular Chesaco Park riders as customers.

"What that means is I'm going to get another car because I'm not going to walk in the weather," she said.

Flanagan has described the changes as a noncontroversial first phase of a more far-reaching restructuring proposed last spring.

He argues that the initiative represents a much-needed rethinking of routes that in many cases haven't changed in decades - even as the economy of Baltimore has undergone profound changes.

The routes that the MTA is revamping, he said, are the same ones that drove the private bus company that operated Baltimore's system into bankruptcy decades ago.

"We're fixing bus routes that are chronically late because it is humanly impossible to run the buses at the scheduled times," he said. "This is a more effective use of existing resources."

In recent weeks, the MTA has conducted an extensive campaign to alert riders to the changes - emphasizing the benefits while playing down the cutbacks. Both the agency's Web site and brochures outlining the route changes boast "new, improved, expanded" service.

Critics such as Ed Cohen, president of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, say that is not truth in advertising.

"New it certainly is. Improved is a matter for discussion and expanded is flat-out false," Cohen said. "It doesn't add service. It simply speeds up service for people who are traveling east and west."

Flanagan defends the agency's use of the word expanded, citing such changes as the extension of the No. 33 line to Eastpoint Mall; more frequent service to Security Square Mall on the No. 20, and more frequent service to Franklin Square Hospital, the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and White Marsh on the No. 35.

Chesaco Park is not the only area that will lose MTA service. The Dundalk neighborhood of Inverness, as well as Hawthorne and Wilson Point in eastern Baltimore County. also won't have it. Also gone will be most of the M-20 line, which was used by domestic workers at homes in the Greenspring and Caves valleys.

The industrial areas of Sparrows Point, Fairfield and Wagner's Point, as well as the office parks north of Hunt Valley Mall, will also lose service. Some of the business parks in the Sparks area will have a shuttle sponsored by employers, but other areas will be out of luck.

The changes, which face their first workday test tomorrow, are much less extensive than the initiative unveiled last spring. The original plan would have cut service to many more areas and would have changed virtually every route in the system.

That plan received such a hostile response in public hearings during the summer that the MTA backed down. In July, Flanagan announced a version of the original initiative that postponed or canceled the changes that provoked the loudest outcries.

"This signaled that we listened to the public and made adjustments to respond to public concerns," Flanagan said.

The changes that remain are hardly inconsequential.

"They're the most significant changes we've ever seen in the history of the MTA," Cohen said. "They've eliminated lines and they've eliminated branches to an extent they've never done before."

Cohen concedes that some of the changes will be an improvement. He thinks the addition of the new No. 40 express bus, running from Essex to Security Square, will take pressure off the crowded No. 23 line. And he thinks service on the east-west No. 33 will improve.

But some of the changes could be unpopular.

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore, said she expects to be getting several constituent calls Tuesday from riders along Gwynn Oak Avenue.

After the July announcement, Gladden and other community leaders attempted to persuade the MTA to keep the M-6 line in operation along that street. But the MTA refused. Some former M-6 riders will have to walk several extra blocks to catch the No. 44 bus on Rogers Avenue.

"I'm sort of disappointed that they would not accommodate us on this one issue," Gladden said.

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