Ravens fans may miss the bus

End to MTA express service leaves many scrambling to find a ride to the game

August 16, 2008|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

As the Baltimore Ravens kick off their preseason home schedule tonight, thousands of Ravens fans who formerly relied on state-operated express buses to get to the games are scrambling to find transportation that doesn't involve parking at or near M&T Bank Stadium.

Some will find rides on private charter buses that are attempting to fill the void left after the Maryland Transit Administration discontinued its popular game-day runs from suburban destinations under pressure from the federal government. They can expect to pay roughly double the cost of riding the MTA last year.

Others, like Cheryl and Mark Elksnis, plan to try out other forms of transportation offered by the MTA.

For as long as the Ravens have been in Baltimore, the first preseason game has been an occasion for the Catonsville couple to take a short trip to the Southwest Park & Ride off Rolling Road to catch a comfortable, hassle-free, state-operated express bus to the stadium with fellow fans.

Since that bus won't be showing up today, the Elksnises are planning a slightly longer drive to the BWI Business District light rail station to catch a train in time for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff against the Minnesota Vikings. Having tried the light rail before and found some of their fellow riders less than congenial, the couple say it's not an experience they are looking forward to.

If it's as scary as they recall, they might end up watching games from home. "We have not ruled out selling our tickets, even though we would hate to do it," Cheryl Elksnis said.

The ruling by the Federal Transit Administration that the MTA - and other public transit agencies around the country - could not provide premium-priced charter rides to athletic contests and similar events came in response to demands by the charter bus industry that public agencies using federal dollars stop offering services that private companies could provide.

Some companies have stepped in to fill the void left by the MTA. But where the MTA charged $10 for a round trip, the going rate on the charters appears to be $20 for service from the former MTA starting points.

Kevin Byrne, senior vice president of the Baltimore Ravens, said that if any charter company is offering MTA replacement service to the games, it is doing so without the agreement of the Ravens. He said such charters have not been given access to the team's list of season ticket holders and would not be permitted to discharge passengers on the stadium grounds.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said that as of yesterday, she had only sketchy information about who would be offering service and where. She said some companies were still negotiating agreements for the use of parking lots and bus stops yesterday afternoon.

Greene said Golden Ring Travel will offer game-day service from the agency's former locations in White Marsh and Essex - albeit at double the $10 round-trip cost of the former service.

Although Greene was not aware of it yesterday, an employee at Bill Rohrbaugh's Charter Service in Carroll County said that company is planning to stop at the Southwest Park & Ride as part of a route serving Manchester, Westminster and Owings Mills.

Riders who formerly caught buses at Warren Road, Carney, Dorsey and Anne Arundel County Community College might be out of luck - at least for now. About 5,000 fans rode the MTA express buses to each Ravens game last year.

Greene said that with the per-game fare at $10, the MTA made a little money providing the service - though not the margins a private business would need to clear. In addition, the agency believed it was providing a public service by relieving congestion while building public support for mass transit.

Still, she noted, if an agency doesn't follow federal rules, it doesn't get vital federal funds. "You can't fight The Man," she said.

Greene said the MTA is talking with other private charter companies about letting them use state parking lots to provide substitute service.

Byrne said several companies had approached the Ravens seeking a green light to market to season ticket holders. He said he hopes the team can reach a deal with a charter operator by the beginning of the regular season. "But right now we haven't been satisfied with the bids we've received or the companies we're dealing with," he said.

The MTA continues to offer scheduled service to the Ravens' stadium via Metro, light rail and multiple bus lines.

Greene said there is ample parking at most Metro subway stations and many light rail stations. Riders using the BWI Business District station will be able to park free at the small MTA lot or a nearby lot owned by the Maryland Aviation Administration.

Metro riders can get off at the subway's Lexington Market station and either walk to the stadium or catch the light rail to the Hamburg Street station just outside the football field grounds. Because the Lexington Market elevator is out of service, preventing disabled riders from using the station, the MTA will run a free stadium shuttle today for all riders at the State Center Metro station.

All MTA fares are $1.60 per one-way trip, or riders can purchase a day pass for $3.50 that allows unlimited transfers among the various MTA transit systems.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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