More bus route changes stalled

State chief confirms budget amendment will prevent Phase 2 this year

April 13, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan acknowledged yesterday that budget language adopted by the General Assembly will delay the second phase of a sweeping restructuring of Baltimore bus routes until next year.

Flanagan said in an interview that a budget amendment barring the Maryland Transit Administration from spending money on the new bus routes before Oct. 1 leaves too little time to put the plan into effect this year.

The MTA had previously announced plans to make extensive changes in June.

But state Sen. Verna L. Jones persuaded colleagues to attach language to the MTA budget forcing the delay and requiring public hearings before the next round of route changes is put in place. The amendment also requires the MTA to evaluate the first phase of the bus route revisions, which took effect in October, and report back to the General Assembly.

Flanagan said the amendment would prevent the MTA from doing any work on putting together new schedules or retraining drivers before Oct. 1. He said the agency would hold public hearings but had not decided when or where.

"I am disappointed that a lot of improved and expanded service for shift workers, for people who need to travel on the weekends, has been delayed by legislative action and apparently at the request of Mayor O'Malley," Flanagan said. He was referring to Mayor Martin O'Malley's decision to send a representative to Annapolis to testify in favor of a bill requiring hearings.

Ed Cohen, president of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, said that some riders along specific routes - particularly the proposed new No. 11 route to Canton - may be dismayed by the delays. But in general, he said, more riders would be relieved.

"The feeling among most transit riders is they were not improvements in Phase 1," he said.

Cohen said his organization agrees with Jones, a Baltimore Democrat, that the MTA needs to study what happened in the first phase before moving forward with the second.

Flanagan's criticism of O'Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for re-election, is unlikely to have much effect on transit riders, Cohen said.

"I have heard criticism of the mayor for not being louder in criticizing what was done to the bus system, but I have heard no criticism of the mayor for calling for public hearings, except from the administration itself," he said.

Flanagan did score one important transit victory during the session as legislation that would have required the MTA to study heavy rail as an alternative for the proposed east-west Red Line through Baltimore failed.

The MTA is studying light rail and enhanced bus service for the Red Line, which would run from Woodlawn to the Fells Point-Canton area.

Flanagan officially took no position on the legislation but warned lawmakers that an expanded study could delay the project. The bill requiring a study of heavy rail, an alternative that Flanagan called too expensive to secure federal funding, passed in the Senate but died in a House committee.

A decision on whether the MTA will recommend light rail or special bus service known as "bus rapid transit" is expected next year, Flanagan said.

Michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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