To The Point

June 02, 2008

A quality shuttle first

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the latest proposal to create a fare-less downtown bus - or "circulator" as it's known in the public transit world - may not be the ideal approach. What downtown Baltimore needs above all else is an attractive, reliable and yes, even fun, shuttle to serve downtown.

A free bus may sound appealing, but it's quality service that would attract riders. Charge a token amount (50 cents, perhaps) and customers will recognize that they're getting something of value - and the city will have the money to invest in a premium product.

Hire drivers for their people skills. Buy "green" buses that are also comfortable. Offer onboard entertainment. Keep service frequent, simple and clearly marked, so even the most casual user knows exactly where the buses go and when they'll get there.

The city would be wise to invest in a circulator by next summer. Rising gasoline prices and parking fees have made transit more desirable than ever.

But the biggest hurdle is the perception among Baltimore residents and visitors alike that buses are an unfriendly, unappealing and, at times, unsafe way to travel in this city. Prove them wrong; give them something delightful, and the riders will come.

Measuring up

Are Baltimore's magnet high schools admitting the right students or not helping enough of them succeed? Schools CEO Andres Alonso was right to challenge City College High School, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and other high-performing schools on both points last year when he found that many students who weren't measuring up were recommended for transfer to neighborhood high schools. Some magnet schools had targeted nearly 20 percent of freshmen and sophomores for transfers. The schools should have revised their admissions criteria or taken greater responsibility for their choices.

The latter has been in play this year. Since August, the schools have worked with at-risk students to retain as many as possible, and the proposed transfers have been reduced by more than 50 percent in some cases. As school-based budgeting takes hold next year, the schools should be able to offer more individual help. That's the least they should do. While admissions and performance standards at these elite schools should not be watered down, the schools owe it to students they admit to make sure they can do the work.

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