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Maryland transit activists slam BaltimoreLink

Maryland transit activists slam BaltimoreLink

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A Maryland Transit Administration bus heads east on Pratt Street on a designated bus lane. Transportation activists released a report Thursday arguing plans to overhaul the Baltimore metro area's bus routes are inadequate. (Adam Bednar/The Daily Record)
A Maryland Transit Administration bus heads east on Pratt Street on a designated bus lane. Transportation activists released a report Thursday arguing plans to overhaul the Baltimore metro area’s bus routes are inadequate. (Adam Bednar/The Daily Record)

Maryland’s proposed overhaul of the Baltimore area’s bus system fails to make sufficient changes to an antiquated network and to provide better access to jobs, according to transportation activists.

Central Maryland Transportation Alliance released a study Thursday of the Maryland Transit Administration’s proposed update of metro area bus routes, dubbed BaltimoreLink. The analysis claims the $135 million proposal does not deliver on promises to better connect residents with regional employers and job centers.

“The grade for access to jobs would not change substantially … the commute time is 52 minutes today on average and will remain 52 minutes based on the plan as it currently stands,” Central Maryland Transportation Alliance President and CEO Brian O’Malley said. “That tells me that BaltimoreLink is not going to improve the commute time … and is not going to improve access to jobs via mass transit.”

Last fall, Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration announced plans for BaltimoreLink. The announcement was viewed by many as a move to pacify Baltimore area residents upset by the governor’s decision not to build the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail route through downtown Baltimore. The governor touted it as a comprehensive and long-overdue overhaul of the region’s bus operations.

Mass Transit Administration Administrator and CEO Paul Comfort, in a letter dated Sept. 20, criticized the report after having conversations with alliance’s staff. Comfort expressed disappointment with the study and wrote that it does not reflect an objective analysis of the plan, and argues its conclusions are based on flawed methodology.

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for the Hogan administration, emailed a scathing statement insinuating the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance has ulterior motives for its criticism of BaltimoreLink.

“This so-called report is complete nonsense and the organization that issued it is extremely biased at best. They became frequent critics of the Hogan administration when their pet project, the Red Line, did not move forward,” Mayer wrote. “Instead of misleading the public, they should join with MTA on their mission to transform and vastly improve Baltimore’s bus system – an effort that is well underway.”

The study, performed by Smart Growth America’s Transportation for America program, found connections to regional job centers, such as Columbia, Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport business district and Woodlawn, would be worse under the revised system.

Criticism of the metro area’s mass transit system, and its ability to connect residents with jobs, isn’t new.

The alliance’s 2015 transportation report card found access to jobs via public transportation in the metro area wanting. Only 11 percent of the region’s jobs are accessible in under an hour using mass transit. The goal for the state’s mass transit system, according to the alliance, is to provide access to at least a quarter of the region’s jobs in that same time frame.

That same report card also found that 22 percent of workers in central Maryland endure a 45-minute one-way commute to work. More than a quarter of the Baltimore’s population lives in neighborhoods where over 25 percent of residents have a commute at least that long.

To improve BaltimoreLink’s ability to connect residents with jobs, the alliance’s study makes several recommendations. Those suggestions include improving weekend service connections to low-and middle-income jobs; starting a resident oversight board to improve accountability; and directing more funding to BaltimoreLink to help it achieve its goals.

O’Malley said the alliance doesn’t know how much it would cost to implement its recommendations but said the bottom line is that more spending is required on mass transit. He noted that the total that’s planned to be spent on BaltimoreLink over six years represents just a 1.5 percent increase in the Maryland Transit Administration’s operating budget.

“In an ideal world we would’ve dreamed up our own scenarios and tested which ones delivered the best results and recommended those and put a price tag to those. But that was beyond the scope of this,” O’Malley said. “The best we can do is call for more funding, highlight areas that need to be addressed and encourage the MTA and all stakeholders to bring attention to those areas.”

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