A newly reorganized transit system has yet to make its first trip, but already Gov. Larry Hogan and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn are calling the nascent BaltimoreLink system transformative.
Hogan and Rahn stood in a parking lot of the West Baltimore MARC station that will be one of six hubs in the new system and touted the new color-coded $135 million transit system as the fulfillment of a promise made nearly two years ago.
“For too long, Baltimore City was plagued with an antiquated, poorly integrated transit system, and frankly for decades the problem was largely ignored by state and local leaders,” Hogan said.
Hogan said the program would “completely transform Baltimore City’s transit system.”
The new system opens at 3 a.m. on Sunday with 12 color-coded routes meant to make more frequent trips that will connect with suburban commuter bus routes, MARC train and light-rail services as well as ride- and bike-sharing services. The plan also calls for dedicated bus lanes in the city and electronic control of traffic signals that will give commuter buses priority.
“I really think this will be a model for other cities looking to improve their transportation systems,” Rahn said.
Transportation officials plan on providing free bus service for the first two weeks in an effort to promote the system and ease the transition for commuters who might end up on the wrong buses during the initial rollout.
Rahn said rapid response teams will be ready to address concerns as they arise.
Hogan stood in the exact parking lot and proposed the new system in 2015 just months after announcing the cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line system that would have connected east Baltimore with western Baltimore County.
“I stood here on this very spot 19 months ago and committed that we were going to transform Baltimore’s broken transit system, and we have done exactly what we said we were going to do,” Hogan said.
The 2015 announcement at the time was poorly received by supporters of the Red Line project, including then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who both called on Hogan to come up with a “Plan B” to replace the long-anticipated rail system.
“Skepticism is probably one of the most generous terms I could use,” Rahn said.
The choice of the location of the announcement is also significant because of its proximity to economically depressed west side neighborhoods, including those at the heart of the riots following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries while in police custody.
“BaltimoreLink again signifies the state’s long-term commitment to the future of this city,” Hogan said.
The overhaul of the system is the first in decades.
“We should not wait 20, 30 or 40 years to redesign our bus system,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said, adding that she believes the new system will help move people to jobs.
“We know we need to get people to work in this city,” Pugh said.
Officials acknowledge the changes will at least initially present challenges for commuters — especially those not used to having to transfer buses to complete their journey.
“I know it’s not perfect, but we’re working together to address all of the concerns that we’ve heard,” City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said, adding that he plans on providing personal feedback on service to acting Maryland Transit Administration Administrator Kevin Quinn.
“I’m going to try the bus system out and let Kevin know if it’s a good thing or not,” Young said.