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Transit advocates slam BaltimoreLink, again

A bus-only lane in Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

A bus-only lane in Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

UPDATED—Baltimore’s updated bus system, dubbed BaltimoreLink, has not produced the faster more reliable service its boosters touted when it fully launched a year ago, according to a recent report.

Advocacy group Central Maryland Transportation Alliance released its report Thursday assessing the performance of BaltimoreLink roughly a year after updated routes were completely launched.

The 42-page report, titled “Are We Better Off? Assessing BaltimoreLink’s Promises One Year Later” failed to find evidence the Maryland Transit Administration’s revamp has made a noticeable difference in terms of reliability, speed, or access to jobs. The report did find the revamped system improved the number of people living near high frequency routes.

“In summary, we do not find evidence that BaltimoreLink delivered on promises including ‘faster, more reliable service,’ ‘reducing congestion more,’ or ‘transforming the way people get to work,’” according to the report.

Central Maryland Transportation Alliance included a list of five recommendations to improve service including improving transparency by providing open data; prioritizing transit by evaluating priority lanes and transit signal priority; focusing on frequency of service, reversing Maryland Transit Administration budget cuts; and producing an “excellent” regional transit plan.

Maryland Department of Transportation/Maryland Transit Administration Administrator Kevin Quinn, in a statement issued to news media, touted BaltimoreLink’s successes including increasing the on-time performance of LocalLink buses by 14 percent, and CityLink’s 73 percent on-time rate. He also expressed surprise the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance’s report did not include information on BaltimoreLink’s on-time and reliability performance, which is available on the agency’s website. 

“(The state) was pleased to see the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance agree that BaltimoreLink has expanded access to high frequency transit and provides access to more high opportunity jobs. The report also reflects that MDOT MTA has realigned our on-time performance measures to match industry standards including WMATA,” Quinn said in the statement.

MTA rolled out its overhaul of city’s bus system called BaltimoreLink last June, with the goal of using the $135 million redesign to make sure buses arrive on time, cut down on the length of trips and improve customer service.

Transit activists, stinging from Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to cancel the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail line, have criticized BaltimoreLink as only one part of a larger investment needed in mass transit in the Baltimore metro area.

Central Maryland Transportation Alliance has been critical of BaltimoreLink for years. A report from the organization released in the fall of 2016, before the system was fully implemented, found the system was already failing to live up to expectations.

At the time of that report’s release, a spokesman for the governor, who is now working for Hogan’s reelection campaign, blasted the group as one-sided and partisan.

“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,” Douglass Mayer wrote in email following the release of the first report. “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.”

(This story was updated to include a response from Maryland Department of Transportation/Maryland Transit Administration Administrator Kevin Quinn.)

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