MTA to cut commuter bus routes

Harford, Howard service, MARC trains to be reduced

October 17, 2008|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,michael.dresser@baltsun.com

The Maryland Transit Administration is proposing to eliminate six commuter bus routes, reduce the number of rides on others and cut back on its increasingly popular MARC train service as a result of severe revenue shortfalls, the O'Malley administration announced yesterday.

Among the services the MTA plans to drop are routes between Baltimore and Columbia, and Laurel and Bel Air. Also on the chopping block are two commuter routes feeding into the Washington Metro system, one between Annapolis and New Carrollton, and the other between Waldorf and Suitland.

Commuter bus lines have been among the fastest-growing forms of transit use as long-distance commuters have left their cars in park-and-ride lots to save on expensive gasoline and parking. MARC train service, including that on two lines linking Baltimore and Washington, has also attracted a growing number of riders in recent years.

The cutbacks, which will be the subject of public hearings, are being proposed despite Gov. Martin O'Malley's outspoken support for increased funding of mass transit. Before the recent revenue shortfalls, the administration had supported additional commuter bus lines and an ambitious long-range plan to expand MARC service.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the cuts - forced by a severe drop in gas tax collections and the other revenue streams that go to the Transportation Trust Fund - would be temporary.

"We would hope to restore and enhance service as quickly as possible, but unlike the federal government, we can't print money," he said.

But a leading transit advocate was not mollified, contending the O'Malley administration should have looked for cuts in other areas.

"To force more people into their cars when everyone's belt is just about as tight as it can get just doesn't make sense," said Otis Rolley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

Porcari said the administration has made reductions in all areas of transportation, including aviation and highways.

"While we don't want to have any service reductions, these are modest," he said.

Simon Taylor, assistant administrator for operations, said the MTA sought to cut services on lines with relatively low demand, though he acknowledged that ridership has been growing on all commuter bus and MARC lines.

On the MARC Penn Line, the MTA plans to eliminate the last two evening round trips of the day. It also proposes to run fewer trains on the Brunswick line linking Western Maryland with Washington. Holiday service would be curtailed on all MARC lines, with no trains running on Veterans Day, Columbus Day and the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holiday cuts would start this year; the other changes would take effect Jan. 12.

Taylor said the proposal includes no cuts to service on the MTA's Light Rail, Metro or core metropolitan bus routes.

Ed Cohen, of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore, said the cuts are coming just as more people are depending on transit services.

"It's not cutting fat. There's no fat to cut," said Cohen, a past president of the advocacy group. "It is certainly counterproductive in trying to develop a transit system that is essential to a functioning 21st-century urban economy."

Public hearings on the proposal will be held at various locations around the state from Nov. 15 to Nov. 25. The two Baltimore hearings will be Nov. 18 at noon and 5 p.m. at the state office complex, 301 W. Preston St. A complete list of hearing dates and times can be found at www.mtamaryland.com.

TRANSIT CUTS

The MTA proposes to eliminate these commuter bus lines:

* Nos. 310, 311, Columbia to Baltimore

* No. 320, Laurel to Baltimore

* No. 412, Bel Air to Baltimore

* No. 913, Waldorf to Suitland Metrorail

* No. 921, Annapolis to New Carrollton Metrorail

The agency also proposes other cuts to commuter buses, MARC trains, and holiday bus and train service. For a complete list, go to www.mtamaryland.com

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