Wheels off the bus

November 21, 2005

It's no secret that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would prefer to spend a lot of money on new highways and as little as possible on transit. But now it appears he's willing to take this unbalanced approach to a new level. As a study released by the Greater Baltimore Committee last week makes clear, the Ehrlich administration doesn't plan to spend much on even the most basic essentials like spare parts and oil changes to keep Baltimore's transit systems running properly.

Specifically, the report found that the administration's draft six-year spending plan anticipates setting aside little to maintain the Maryland Transit Administration's buses and trains, as well as the system's tracks, stations and other infrastructure. In 2010, for instance, the maintenance budget drops to $5 million. This year, the agency is spending $71 million on maintenance. It spent $77 million last year.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan says the GBC report distorts the situation and the MTA maintenance budget is simply understated. Maybe, but the maintenance budget for highways doesn't appear to be understated at all - it's projected to rise from $393 million in fiscal 2004 to $514 million in 2010, or 100 times the MTA's anticipated level of support.

Whatever the reasoning, the numbers are evidence of either bad management or bad accounting. Mr. Flanagan has stated repeatedly that he wants a more efficient and effective MTA. But it's a mystery how Baltimore transit can possibly be improved by cutting maintenance by 90 percent. That's a formula for disaster - for the wheels to literally fall off the buses.

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