Push is on for more buses

Transit officials say residents' demands for better service are driving expansion

November 19, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Anticipating a sharp rise in demand for public transportation and trying to respond to requests from riders, Harford County transit officials say they plan to push for more bus lines and expanded hours of operation.

Users of the service want improvements including better signs and shelters at bus stops, and more extensive routes with evening, weekend and holiday service, said Michael Hannan, administrator of Harford Transit Service, the county's public transportation agency.

"We serve the public," said Hannan, adding that the agency is considering all requests. "If we don't serve the public, we won't be here. But it is all based on funding."

Geraldine Cox, 88, said a shelter at her stop in Aberdeen would protect her from foul weather as she waits for a bus.

Marianne Gallinat, 84, requested Sunday bus service so that she can go to church.

Several others at a public transit hearing last week asked for evening service to minor league baseball games at Ripken Stadium, all-day fares and more routes to and from Baltimore.

The annual transit meeting was held at Aberdeen City Hall because of its proximity to bus routes. About 40 people attended, but the bus schedule forced several to leave the afternoon meeting early or risk missing a ride home on the Aberdeen Doodlebug, a 20-seat vehicle that transports riders throughout the city.

"Many of us are depending on the Doodlebug to get home," said Kimberly F. Dimeo. "I want to see plans for getting seniors like me to IronBird games."

Hannan assured those who attended the hearing that the agency would review all suggestions. Those who could not attend or had to leave early can submit comments in writing. Surveys on quality of service also are available on the buses.

The county's public transportation service operates nine bus routes, predominantly in Harford's southern and central areas, on a $5.7 million annual budget. It will ask the Maryland Transit Administration for about $1.5 million in operating costs for next year and $1.6 million in capital funds to replace one-third of its buses. The agency also receives money from the county and federal governments.

The agency is preparing for a growing ridership and plans to add routes and expand hours of operation, Hannan said.

Kevin Racine, a Havre de Grace resident and vice president of the Transit Riders Action Council, an advocacy group for those who rely on public transportation, urged the county to think regionally. He mentioned Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest's recent support for bus routes joining Harford and Cecil counties in the not-too-distant future, and possible service to southern Delaware. He also is pushing for bus lines to Harford's northern, more rural areas to ease traffic congestion.

"We don't want you to give up your cars, but we want you to be able to get to work if your car breaks down," Racine said.

Public transportation will become increasingly important in Harford County over the next few years as the national military base realignment increases the work force at Aberdeen Proving Ground and its surroundings by nearly 30,000 jobs, officials said.

"It will be really important for BRAC to join Harford and Cecil counties with public transportation," Racine said.

Buses carried nearly 300,000 riders in the last fiscal year, an increase of almost 50,000 since 2005, Hannan said. Riders pay $1 per trip, with a 50-cent discount available to senior citizens and disabled passengers.

"We are carrying more and more riders every year," Hannan said.

The service operates 31 buses, most of which have 20 seats. Hannan's operating proposal calls for replacing 10 aging vehicles and includes a request for a greater proportion of larger buses to accommodate growing ridership between Bel Air and Aberdeen.

"We have to grow and expand, because the county is growing," he said. "We have to project five years down the road and upgrade our fleet."

The system is also factoring BRAC into its plans. "We will need more buses and routes to APG in about three years," Hannan said. "We are asking for those early, so officials can see the need."

The improvements cannot come too soon for residents such as Cox and Gallinat.

"I freeze in winter, faint in summer and am often rain-soaked waiting for buses," she said. "We need bus shelters."

Gallinat has relied on public transportation for the past 20 years, and she says the time has come for the service to grow along with the county.

"If you live on the outskirts, you really can't go anywhere," she said. "If you want to get to church on Sunday, you have to pay a cab and that's expensive."



Facts about Harford County's public transit service:

Total number of vehicles in the fleet: 31

20 vehicles that carry 17 to 21 passengers

2 that carry 29 passengers

4 that carry 31 to 35 passengers

5 van-like vehicles that carry passengers for medical purposes

Number of routes: nine

Fares: $1 per trip (50 cents for senior citizens and disabled).

Ridership for fiscal years, which end June 30:

2006: 286,330

2005: 238,880

2004: 225,600

Current budget for fiscal 2006: $5.7 million (comprising county, state and federal funding)

Request for state funding for next fiscal year: $3.1 million ($1.5 million for operating costs and $1.6 for capital spending)

Number of new vehicles proposed: 10

Cost of new buses with more than 30 seats: $300,000

[ Source: Harford Transit Service]

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