The Maryland Transit Administration, responding to complaints from Market Center merchants that a bus line change has hurt their business, has decided to restore the No. 23 to part of its old route along Saratoga Street, starting Feb. 26.
The quick response comes after a meeting of the MTA and retailers last week where some business owners warned that prompt action was needed or they would have to close.
"We've always said we wanted to listen and work with groups to respond to issues as they arose," said Beth Kreider, the MTA's deputy administrator for planning and policy.
The news of the MTA's route change elated many of the shopkeepers -- some of whom say they've lost more than half their business since the bus route was moved to Fayette Street in October.
"Now I can dance on Saratoga Street," said Donna Mont, a partner in Grandma's Candle Shop on that east-west route.
"I would sit here like days at a time and not get any sales at all," said Agnes Anderson, co-owner of The Bible Shop on Park Avenue near Saratoga. "You really don't miss something until it's gone."
Casper Jenko, executive director of Lexington Market, called the change announced yesterday "wonderful." Many stall operators in the market, where Market Center merchants vented their frustrations with MTA officials last week, reported a loss of sales after last fall's route change.
The move of the No. 23 to Fayette was one of dozens of changes made Oct. 23 as part of the first phase of the Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative -- the Ehrlich's administration's restructuring of routes and schedules. Many of the changes, which the MTA has billed as improvements, have proved unpopular with riders interviewed by The Sun.
Under the change approved this week by Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, the No. 23 will be diverted from Fayette and Baltimore streets to serve the stretch of Saratoga between Charles and Greene streets.
That neighborhood is heavily populated by small, family-owned businesses -- many of them run by immigrants -- that cater to a clientele that depends on the MTA for transportation.
The drive to bring the No. 23 back was led by Elhamy "Hany" Ibrahim, an Egyptian-born merchant who owns a hardware shop and a lingerie store in the 200 block of W. Saratoga St.
Ibrahim said yesterday that the return of the No. 23 will help businesses stay on Saratoga. But he said he rejected an effort by an MTA official to get him to return the favor by coming out against a General Assembly bill that would require public hearings before the MTA implements a new round of route changes scheduled for June.
The bill was up for a hearing in the Senate yesterday. Flanagan testified in opposition. Ibrahim, who was in Annapolis, said he declined MTA community liaison Ruth Silverstone's request because he hadn't read the bill.
When Ibrahim did read the bill, he said, "I'm for it." Ibrahim testified in favor of the legislation sponsored by Sens. Lisa A. Gladden and Verna L. Jones, both Baltimore Democrats.
Linda Frangioni, president of the Market Center Merchants Association, said Silverstone asked her to oppose the bill when the MTA official met with her and Ibrahim on Thursday to tell them about the Saratoga Street route change.
"There was a little bit of a trade-off," said Frangioni, who agreed to send a memo asking members to come out against the legislation.
Kreider said she could not say whether Silverstone's request to the merchants was authorized. Silverstone could not be reached for comment.