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January 12, 2010

Charm City Circulator provokes reader questions


Sun photo/Jed Kirschbaum

Veolia Transportation driver Paulette Coles drives the new Orange Route bus.

Monday's debut of the Charm City Circulator come a spate of reader questions about the conception of the new service. They're good questions, but the city's answers make a lot of sense too.

Johns Houst asks:

 If the circulator is such a great deal, why not extend circulator service to JHU’s Homewood Campus from Penn Station rather than install the “planned” trolley?

Jamie Kendrick, the city's deputy transportation director, said the planned Purple Route service due to open this spring will turn around at Penn Station for two basic reasons: cost and time.

In other words, the extra cost of extending the service to Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus would over-extend the circulator's budget while blowing its timetable. One fact of life in the bus business is that the longer a route extends, the harder it is to maintain a consistent schedule  and the more things that can go wrong.

Kendrick said there are still efforts being made by the Charles Street Development Corp. to organize a trolley service that would serve Homewood, but the financing hasn't materialzed yet.

My view  is that the city is wise not to try to be all things to all people with the circulator service. If it takes off, there is always the possibility of expansion. As for Homewood, there is ample service to the campus aboard several MTA routes at a cost of $1.60 each way, while students and faculty are served by their own free campus bus service.

Tom Giossi asks:

I may have missed this somewhere in the coverage of the circulator over the past few months, but why don't the Purple and Green lines connect?  i.e. someone going from Penn Station/Federal Hill to Fells Point would have to change lines twice

This is an excellent question: One of the things that is glaringly obvious about the Circulator map is that the Purple and Green lines never cross. (The Orange Route connects with both.)

But what constitutes a connection anyway? The light rail and the Metro subway, for instance, interconnect in a manner of speaking. The both have Lexington Market stations and there's a State Center/Cultural Center connection, though it can take a two-block walk to make a transfer. It doesn't help that the areas are not particularly inviting after dark and the  signage is substandard.

With the Purple and Green routes, the connection or lack of it is a similar story. A rider can bridge the gap between the lines by walking the roughly 2 1/2 blocks from the Purple Route's Light Street stop behind the Mitchell Courthouse to the Green Route's City Hall stop. 

Kendrick said the city tinkered with various ways of bringing the routes closer but couldn't do so without throwing off the running times on one route or another. Given the  maze of one-way streets downtown, I couldn't see an obvious solution. Good signage pointing toward the walking connection would be a  partial solution.

Another reader, known only to me as Richard, inquires:

Although its only one block, I cannot figure out why the Circulator headed towards Fells Point stops at Eutaw & in front of the old convention center but NOT at Howard Street, you know, at the Convention Center Light Rail stop. Because of this there is no direct connection with the light rail (since Lombard at Howard stop is one block from the Baltimore St stop.

Didn't Baltimore learn its lesson when it built the Light Rail at Lexington Market two blocks from the Metro stop?

So here's the question yet again: How far can one line's stop be from another line's stop and still constitute a connection? My inclination, being relatively healthy and mobile, is to count anything that comes within a block as a pretty decent connection. Kendrick said the choice of stops before the Convention Center and Camden Yards -- each a block from the light rail line -- was a matter of properly spacing a limited number of stops. But, he said, the system is subject to tweaking and adapting as city officials learn more about riders' needs.

Those who think a one-block walk is too much to ask of riders should let the city know their feelings. Don't count on me to join the chorus of complaints.

The last question is the easiest. It comes from Charles H. Stinemire:

Can you tell me how to get a more detailed map of the Charm City Circulator?

Right here:









Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:57 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: City bus service



I admit that I haven't been following this story closely but this is the VERY FIRST time I recall reading that this was a private contractor operation.

What have been the MTA and Union position on this?

I noticed the clever devices in the buses are announcing transfers to the Green and Purple lines.

They probably should not have them do that until the lines are operational, so folks don't get confused.

First off, as someone who rides MTA daily for my commute, I am fantastically excited for this new service. However, I am just a tad disappointed with service on the East Side of downtown. The Purple Line looks great, and the Orange Line does a great job covering the harbor and downtown. But what, exactly, is the point of the green line? Why not extend it just a bit to the north and have a direct connection between Fells Point and Mt. Vernon? Hopkins hospital is already very well connected to downtown via the Metro subway; while I understand the desire to better link the up-and-coming area with Fells Point, is this really the way to do it? Why doesn't the Orange Line extend all the way to Broadway? Overall, though, I think this will be a great addition to Baltimore this summer. I'm already looking forward to riding it from work to Orioles games and happy hours.

Mr. Rational,

This service is funded by the City; MTA is state agency. Two different operators.

I'm very glad this program has finally come to fruition. I believe this will greatly improve mobility in and around downtown Baltimore, while also boosting overall transit ridership.

I have to give credit where credit is due, and the City deserves credit for developing the Circulator.

Nate Payer

If you need to get to Hopkins Homewood from Penn Station, just take the Hopkins Shuttle.

Any plans for additional routes? Would be nice to see service extended east of Broadway.... or are we supposed to wait for the Red Line to run down the center of Boston Street?
COMMENT: 1. No (at least not on land). 2. Yes.

To BankStreet's comment: It would be better to push for the #11 to have more frequent service, as it serves Canton to downtown and northward. It doesn't run frequently enough to generate off-peak, choice-rider patronage. Whatever the cause, the Boston St segment of the line is near zero.

Nate Payer

Nate's right; the 11 is poorly utilized, but it is a fantastic line. Canton to Fells to downtown to Mt. Vernon on north. When I mention to my east side friends that they can just hop this bus to and from work and give up their expensive downtown parking permits, they look at me like I'm a crazy person.

why not charge $1 per trip? Is that asking too much, especially when the city and state are in so much debt as it is. And this way it might keep a few vagrants off the bus. FREE is not always better.

It's pretty easy for a vagrant to scrounge up a dollar, too. The key to keeping public transit safe is ridership and vigilance. A free service encourages the marginal rider to give up his car, and thus makes the service more likely to be safe. HIGH COST is not always better, either.

More service on the 11 would make me a happy happy man. No way should that bus only come as infrequently as it does.

And why should the CCC charge? It already has a dedicated source of funding, so it's not like it needs the money to survive.

Mitch/JasonZ, this issue was noted by transit advocates during the planning phase. I don't think $1 is unreasonable. 50 cents might be better--some low, round value. I think at least one of DC's circulators does that.

I believe the key to strong patronage and success is very high-frequency, timely service. Short routes MUST have these or there is very little value, as one could walk to his/her destination in comparable time. Service level is more important than the cost here.

Nate Payer

Justin- yes there is funding for the Circulator but this city is in desperate need of money and $1 a trip, I believe, would keep "some" vagrants off the bus and raise a lot of money for a city that has none.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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