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Bill seeks repeal of MTA farebox mandate

10.17.12- BALTIMORE, MD- L and R- Marc commuter train crossing the edmondson highway bridge in west Baltimore. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record).

10.17.12- BALTIMORE, MD- L and R- Marc commuter train crossing the Edmondson Highway bridge in west Baltimore. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record).

Activists backing robust public transportation argue that a mandate for the Maryland Transit Administration to recover 35 percent of its operating costs from fares and other revenues distorts the evaluation of the system’s efficiency.

Democratic state legislators in both chambers of the General Assembly on Thursday proposed legislation repealing the requirement. Instead reports to legislative committee’s assessing the state’s public transportation system would focus on performance metrics, such as efficiency, reliability and access to service.

“The intent behind the farebox recovery mandate is fine. I want (mass transit) to run efficiently, but I think it’s misguided, it’s not achieved what its wanted to achieve, and it’s an obstacle for the MTA improving itself,” said Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, which supports expanding mass transit.

Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore, and Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery County, sponsored the legislation in their respective chambers. A group of unions, activists and businesses, such as Tradepoint Atlantic and Sagamore Development Co., have joined a group called Get Maryland Moving to support the legislation.

Goals in the bill include aiming for 85 percent of all mass transit trips to arrive on time; setting an average trip time in the core service area of 45 minutes or less; and having 10 percent of all residents in the Baltimore-Towson metro area primarily commuting on mass transit. The bill also requires 15 percent of all jobs in that metro area be accessible within a 60-minute transit trip.

“The farebox recovery mandate is an impediment to MTA to provide a high-level of service. As costs rise every year the mandate requires that MTA regularly reduce service and maintenance because they cannot keep up with increasing costs,” Lierman said. “All passengers will still be required to pay, and MTA will still report on its farebox recovery percentage, but there will not be a mandate requiring them to hit a 35 percent standard.”

Christopher B. Summers, president of the conservative leaning Maryland Public Policy Institute, said the goals laid out in the bill will force the state to increase spending on mass transit. He said eliminating the farebox recovery ratio mandate takes away a useful tool for performing a cost-benefit analysis of mass transit in Maryland.

“This is dream legislation for those who think people should give up their cars and use more transit,” Summers said.

Of the services subject to the farebox recovery ratio mandate, only MARC routinely reaches the 35 percent mark. In fact, the service surpassed it every year since fiscal year 2011 by at least 9 percent.

Meanwhile, services such as the Baltimore Metro, Light Rail and core bus service fell well below the mark. Light Rail posted the lowest farebox recovery ratio, only reaching 16 percent for every fiscal year dating back to 2012.

But the legislation’s supporters still argue the mandate hinders MTA’s ability to be responsive to rider’s needs.

Glenn Smith, a minister, west Baltimore community activist and Get Maryland Moving co-chair, said he supports the legislation because he believes it will help provide residents better access to jobs and educational opportunities.

“MTA has used the farebox recovery to say they can’t invest in better transportation. They’re always trying to save money to make that recovery, that 35 percent recovery, and it has impacted the service of transportation,” Smith said.

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