MTA could revise bus plan

Changes not yet announced, but employee posted proposal online

December 31, 2005|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Transit Administration is considering a series of schedule changes in February -- a recognition that the new bus route plan it implemented in October was flawed.

These so-far unannounced changes could come as a result of numerous complaints that the Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative -- which the Ehrlich administration has billed as an improvement to service -- has hurt service on some routes.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the detailed list of changes has not been completed, but the proposed changes were outlined in an online message posted by an MTA employee on a local Web site.

Flanagan confirmed that the list is "indicative" of the changes expected to be made in February, but said it "had not gone up the chain of command.

Despite the flaws, he maintained that the route restructuring is going well. "Judging by the overall results, we have improved service for a vast majority of the customers who use the buses," he said.

Among the routes being proposed for overhaul is the new No. 40 Express from Security Square to Essex, which Flanagan has portrayed as one of the key enhancements in the restructuring. Riders have complained that the No. 40 schedule is unrealistic, that buses run irregularly at peak times and are virtually empty during non-peak hours.

"It was flawed with problems from the outset," said community activist and transit advocate Chuck Venick, who added that the MTA had failed to effectively market the new line.

Rider Janice Huglett said she now has to walk extra blocks to get to her stop for the No. 40 bus, and sometimes ends up waiting 40 minutes for a bus that's supposed to run every 10 minutes.

Huglett, who commutes to downtown from Hunting Ridge in West Baltimore, said some riders who tried the No. 40 have given up on it because buses didn't show up for long intervals.

"You don't see those people any more at the stop," she said. The MTA "just turned away people in droves with their terrible service. It's too bad, because they had a chance to make a difference."

In addition to the No. 40, the proposed revisions also involve major changes to previously existing routes serving the North Avenue corridor (No. 13) and Dundalk (No. 2/10), where operators have reportedly had difficulty adhering to the new schedule.

The proposed changes would not reverse one particularly unpopular cut made in October -- elimination of the M6 line in Northwest Baltimore.

About 20 residents demonstrated yesterday at MTA headquarters to protest the elimination -- saying it has created a hardship for their elderly and handicapped neighbors. Community association chairman Joshua Salaam said demonstrators handed MTA officials a petition with 800 signatures of people seeking restoration of the route.

The changes under consideration would bring some additional service to Northwest Baltimore in the form of more No. 44 buses to Social Security offices. Other routes that could see changes include Nos. 8, 9, 12, 20 and 23.

One of the architects of these changes is Adam Paul, a veteran bus driver recruited by the MTA to bring some on-street experience to its scheduling. Paul, an active participant in online discussions of the transit system, recently posted a comprehensive list of the changes to go into effect Feb. 6.

The expected February changes, which are separate from the second phase of the bus initiative slated for implementation this summer, would affect at least a dozen routes.

Paul said in an interview Thursday that the changes on at least three routes -- the No. 40, the No. 13 and the No. 2/10 -- would amount to "fairly extensive rebuilds" of their schedules. In the case of the No. 40, the route would extend service to Middle River, he said.

The 11-year bus operator acknowledged that the No. 40 has been troubled by buses' tendency to clump together -- with two or three arriving at a stop at about the same time, followed by long intervals without a bus.

Paul said that under the proposal, the schedule would be adjusted to give operators on the 40 more time to complete a run that was originally scheduled to take 57 minutes. The new schedule would allow about an hour and 15 minutes, he said.

The scheduler also acknowledged problems with the marketing of the route, which according to transit advocates frequently carries few passengers at midday or after the evening rush hour.

"Publicity on the line is a little bit slow getting out," he said.

Flanagan conceded yesterday that "bunching up" has been a serious problem for the bus system. He said one of the reasons is that the General Assembly had cut the number of positions at the MTA, leading to a shortage of bus supervisors.

The transportation secretary described Paul as "a very talented young man." Flanagan said that though the posting was not approved, it was not "a big deal."

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