Carless In Baltimore Is An Exercise In Hopelessness

October 25, 2008|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

It's been 41 years since I got a Maryland driver's license, and it's also been 41 years since I last drove a car. For the record, I passed the driving test in one try at Glen Burnie and then hung up the keys.

Being car-less in Baltimore has made for some interesting experiences as I beg lifts from family, friends and strangers. I also walk, hail cabs, take trains and ride a lot of buses.

Baltimore's bus system, as I've often wailed, is no match for those in other cities where public transportation is taken seriously. Ours is a system that works only in fits and starts; but over the past year, the Maryland Transit Administration has made some changes in an effort to make Baltimore's buses run to more convenient destinations.

One of these changes has linked Canton with Towson via the No. 11 route, which also serves my neighborhood of Charles Village. I tried to use the No. 11 earlier this year but rated it a big zero when the scheduled bus never landed in Towson. So, I hailed a cab.

I thought I'd give the No. 11 another chance, so one afternoon this week, I waited next to First Mariner Arena for 20 minutes at the posted scheduled arrival time. No bus. I gave up. Another no-show.

The next morning I needed to get to East Baltimore, a little short of Canton, and thought that the third try might be the charm. The printed schedule gave the times for stops at Bedford Square in Guilford and at North Avenue. To be careful, I was at my stop a few minutes early, about 8:05 a.m., in time to watch my neighbors walk their dogs.

No bus arrived.

At 8:30, I was on the phone with an MTA service representative, asking whether there might have been some major disruption. Nothing was wrong, I was told, and the no-bus situation would be "written up." I was told that another bus was due, and at 10 minutes after that due time, it did arrive.

The vehicle was crowded with passengers who were, like myself, not in the best of moods. Word on this bus was that there had been a breakdown.

I stepped off at Fleet Street and Central Avenue a full 100 minutes after beginning this odyssey. Walking would have been faster. I did not chance a return trip on the line. Instead, I jumped in a taxi waiting outside of the new Harbor East hotels. (One of the ideas behind the newly adjusted transit routes is to place buses in some of Baltimore's newly redeveloped areas of population and job growth.)

At this point, I was feeling frustrated, but then I started to chuckle.

The night before, I had taken a MARC commuter train to Washington. Even with a walk to Penn Station, the entire 38-mile route ate up less traveling time (about 70 minutes) than an apparently simple, morning rush-hour hop from Charles Village to Central Avenue.

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