Bowing to community complaints in an election season, the Maryland Transit Administration said yesterday that it will restore much of its prior service to a Northwest Baltimore bus route that it abolished as part of the restructuring of the city's bus routes last year.
The restoration of service to the M-6 line, planned for Sunday, in large part reverses a decision the MTA made as part of the sweeping route revision and then stuck to despite vocal protests from residents and legislators.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday that the M-6 changes -- part of a package of service increases on five MTA bus routes -- would not restore all the cuts made last October but would provide "a healthy level of service."
Flanagan said weekday M-6 service would double at midday and that Saturday and Sunday service would be restored.
"We reached the conclusion that this level of service would be a good test of the market," he said.
Flanagan said the other changes coming Sunday will bring significant improvements on the Nos. 16, 22, 33 and 55 routes. He said the MTA will increase Sunday service to many churches and increase the frequency of service to universities and medical facilities.
"We have made numerous improvements in bus service, and our work has been ambitious and unrelenting," he said.
Flanagan said the bus service changes made by the Ehrlich administration include significant improvements in the buses and their maintenance. But for many riders, the route changes made last October meant disruptions, delays and -- for some -- a total loss of service.
The elimination of the M-6, which runs along Gwynn Oak Avenue from Rogers Station to Security Square Mall, emerged as the most inflammatory of the changes. This spring, under pressure from local legislators and community protests, Flanagan restored service on the line at about one-eighth the previous level, but local residents were far from satisfied.
Sunday's restoration of service will precede by a month an election in which Flanagan's boss, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is being challenged by Baltimore's Democratic mayor, Martin O'Malley, in what is thought be a close race. Some local legislators said the timing is no coincidence.
"This is so political it's ridiculous," said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore.
Gladden said the turnaround is probably too late to help Ehrlich in Northwest Baltimore, a mostly African-American area that tends to vote Democratic but where the governor has tried to make inroads. "Why did we have to get this close to the election before the administration heard us?" Gladden said.
Del. Jill P. Carter, a Democrat who represents the area, said the election was "the first thing I thought of" when she heard about the M-6. She said she doubts whether Ehrlich will win many votes for restoring something that "never should have been taken away in the first place" but that the action could soften some of the hard feelings among local residents.
Mercedes Eugenia, president of the Howard Park Civic Association, said O'Malley might not be in a position to benefit from anger at the governor. The city administration registered a written objection to the M-6 abolition in the summer of 2005, but Eugenia said O'Malley was "silent" during the protests this year. "He didn't seize an opportunity," Eugenia said.
Flanagan bristled at the suggestion that the timing of the bus changes was influenced by the election. He said the MTA was precluded from restoring M-6 service sooner by budget language adopted by the General Assembly requiring public hearings before the agency could proceed with a second phase of its bus route restructuring.
Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat who wrote the language, said the budget did not tie the MTA's hands. Her contention is supported by the bill, which allows expenditures for the restoration of service.
"We didn't interpret it that way," Flanagan said.