City's Bus System Needs An Upgrade

May 12, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

One day this week, I set my alarm early and caught a 5:20 a.m. bus at my corner. It was filled to capacity, reminding me how much of hardworking Baltimore remains.

I took the same No. 3 line home that evening about 9, and the bus was even more crowded.

In my more than 50 years of riding Baltimore's buses and waiting for them at stops, I've had a few ideas pop into my mind.

A recent Sun article about the current leadership of the Maryland Transit Administration getting a case of hesitant -- if not cold -- feet about reforming and reworking Baltimore's public transit picture left me annoyed.

OK, maybe the Ehrlich administration was too quick to work over the bus routes, but they need to be made more efficient and planners need to be more responsive to riders.

I applauded the guts displayed by former Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan for putting Baltimore's bus situation on the table and opening up a proper debate. If the thing blew up -- and many persons did not like the proposed changes and alterations to routes -- that proves how much riders have invested in this issue.

Maybe we need a time out to build a constituency, but what I see is a bus system that is lackluster, lagging behind its counterparts in Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Those towns have real transit.

For starters, the bus planners have to consider where people are working today -- and how the city and its employment patterns have changed in the past three decades.

If Baltimore is a real city, and not a Rust Belt invalid, we need a fluid transit system. Too often, our leaders in Annapolis have viewed transit as a public works project (the Baltimore Metro) that was a boon to contractors. Our light rail was hurried through the public debate and legislative processes in the frenzy to open Oriole Park. As perhaps an unintended consequence, it also does a nice job of connecting BWI-Marshall Airport to the city, but so do MARC trains.

The MARC trains are the one bright spot in Baltimore's transit picture. They attract many riders, but ouch! -- don't try making a timely connection to a city bus to complete your journey. And why is the heavily used Halethorpe station still shabby? Parking has been increased, but the platforms are begging for a makeover.

Transit is not an easy topic. Years ago, the state began investing in the rail commuter trains that once carried a trickle of riders. Today these trains are packed, and there is sentiment to get more of them running. How about the same for the bus system?

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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