August 18, 2011

Region has 6,000+ with no car, no transit access

The greater Baltimore region has more than 6,000 household that lack either a car or access to mass transit services, according to a report released Thursday by the Brookings Institution.

That number is overshadowed by the more than 114,000 regional households that own no vehicles but do have access to transit. That puts the region at 94.6 percent coverage for zero-vehicle households -- coming in 20th out of 100 metropolitan areas around the country.

The Baltimore numbers do show a significant gap between the city and the suburbs in transit access for such households, most with low family incomes. While the city has 100 percent transit coverage, according to Brookings, 85.1 percent of no-vehicle households in the suburbs have such access.

When it comes to providing no-vehicle households with access to jobs, the region doesn't fare as well.  The report days Baltimore provides 42 percent of no-vehicle households with access to jobs -- ranking 32nd out of 100. Of those households, 50.3 percent are in the city and 23.7 percent in the  suburbs.


Continue reading "Region has 6,000+ with no car, no transit access" »

January 31, 2011

Bus, Metro riders' top gripe is on-time performance

Lateness was the No. 1 concern of riders on the Maryland Transit Administration's local bus system and Metro subway -- whether they were satisfied with the service or not --  according to a survey conducted by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

The group's interim  report on the first three months of its "Rate Your Ride" survey found that Metro customers are significantly more pleased with their service than bus riders. On a scale in which a 1 indicated excellence and a 4 "major problems," riders rated the Metro 2.0 and the bus service 2.8.

The alliance received more than 4,000 responses to its survey via its web page and text messages. While  it sought responses from riders of all the MTA's  services, the group said it did not have enough responses from riders of MARC commuter trains, the light rail system and Mobility cabs and vans to include them in their results in the interim report.

Continue reading "Bus, Metro riders' top gripe is on-time performance" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:01 AM | | Comments (13)

January 27, 2011

MTA offers limited bus service; light rail delayed

The Maryland Transit Administration says it is providing only limited local bus service this morning because many streets remain impassable. Meanwhile the light rail system is experiencing 30-minute delays in trains from the southern ends of the system at BWI Airport and Cromwell Station.

 Here's the word on the buses:

 Local Bus Emergency News & Service Update

Last updated: January 27, 8:25 AM MTA local bus is operating with limited service. Customers should expect major delays. As roads become more accessible, additional routes will be added.

 The following routes are open: 1, 3, 5, 7, 8,10,13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 29, 33, 35, 40, 44, 48, 52,53, 54, 56, 57, 77


January 26, 2011

MTA: Cards are good (even if drivers are clueless)

Chikwe Njoku wrote in with an inquiry about the Maryland Transit Administration's Transit Link Cards. Thanks to Terry Owens, spokesmam for the MTA, for providing a timely answer.

I have a MARC  TLC Monthly that I use to travel to/from DC. It is very useful since you can also use it on Metro Bus or Metro Rail once you get to DC. Like the Metro Fare Cards they often fail.. and then become a "flash card" that you show upon entering/exiting the station.
I have also used the fare card to ride both the Light Rail and MTA Bus at certain times between Camden and Penn Stations as needed. I have noticed that both the fare inspectors and drivers are becoming increasingly perplexed by the MARC TLC Monthly.  Many stare at it in amazement and one driver told me its not valid on the MTA Bus. I tried to explain to her what I thought the policy was and she said " There isn't anything about MTA Buses/Light Rail on here...." I was stunned... after I examined the card.. I realized she was correct unless the policy has changed?

Continue reading "MTA: Cards are good (even if drivers are clueless)" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, City bus service, Light rail, MARC train, MTA

January 5, 2011

MTA introduces CharmCard for seniors

The Maryland Transit Administration said that on Monday it will roll out a version of its CharmCard fare collection system that will reflect the discounts available to seniors.

The new, bright orange CharmCard for Seniors will be available to riders over 65, charging them the reduced fares already available for older MTA customers.

The original CharmCard, introduced last year, offered  automated fare collection using a plastic card with an embedded microchip that stores and spends the monetary value  the customer adds to the card. But at the time of its launch, the system was unable to account for senior fares.

The new senior card is intended to remedy that omission. It can be used on MTA local buses, the Baltimore subway and light rail, as well as Washington-area buses and that city's Metro. It is not accepted on MARC trains, where the ticketing is integrated into the Amtrak system.

According to the MTA, customers can carry up to a $200 balance on their cards at any time. It said the cards will be registered so that value is protected in case the card is lost, damaged or stolen. Seniors are eligible for such discounts as 55 cents  for a regular one-way fare, compared to the standard $1.60, and $1.20 for a day  pass, compared with $3.50 for other riders.

The reduced-fare senior cards  willl be available at  the  MTA certification office at 6 St. Paul St. in downtown Baltimore. A valid Photo ID will  be required to  prove eligibility. The cost of the senior  card is $2, but it comes pre-loaded with that amount in transit fares.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, Local bus lines, MTA, MTA bus system

January 3, 2011

Census shows transit lags in Baltimore County

Baltimore County slipped from fourth to a tie for fifth place in Maryland in the percentage of workers who use public transit to get to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau's 2005-2009 American Community Survey shows that fast-growing Charles County jumped past Baltimore County to come in No. 4 among Maryland jurisdictions in transit use. Transit use there more than doubled from 2.4 percent in the 2000 Census to 6.2 percent in the more recent survey -- likely  reflecting a sharp increase in the number of commuter buses serving the Southern Maryland County.

Baltimore County, meanwhile, slipped from 4 percent transit use in the 2000 Census to 3.9 percent in the survey. That put it in a tie with Howard County, where transit use grew from 2.5 percent in 2000. Baltimore County, parts of which are served by the Maryland Transit Administration, is the largest jurisdiction in the state without a locally operated bus system.

The same survey showed that Maryland ranks fifth among the states -- or sixth if the District of Columbia is included -- in transit use at 8.7 percent of the population. In 2000, the state's percentage stood at 7.2 percent.

Continue reading "Census shows transit lags in Baltimore County" »

December 13, 2010

Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill

A tax break for MARC and other  transit riders that had been imperiled in earlier versions of the tax bill making its way through appears to have a good chance of staying alive -- at least for another year.

Paul Dean, director of government relations for the American Public Transit Association, said the version of the tax bill the Senate voted on today includes a continuation of the benefit at its current level. Without the provision, the benefit would be cut roughly in half as of Jan. 1.

The benefit allows transit riders to pay up to $230 in transit fares each month with pre-taxed dollars. That amount was raised from $120 in President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, but that provision had been on the chopping block until House and Senate negotiators agreed to write a one-year extension in the bill continuing the tax cuts implementred under President George W. Bush, Dean said.


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Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:57 PM | | Comments (1)

December 3, 2010

Metro platform work at Owings Mills beginning

The Maryland Transit Administration will begin work tonight on repairs to the platform at the Owings Mills Metro Subway station, but scheduled service is not expected to be affected.

The MTA said the work will take place at night between 10 p.m.  and 4 a.m. weekdays and between 10 p.m Friday  and 4 a.m. Monday on weekends. The agency said some section's of the platform's concrete  are showing signs of wear and damage after 27 years of use. The project, which will repair platform sections and replace yellow safety tiles, is expected to be completed in mid-January.

The MTA said that the project will close a single track at the station periodically but that it is not expected to affect scheduled service.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

November 9, 2010

Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed

Yesterday we recounted the  story of Bernard and Maria Smith and the hoops they had to jump through at the Maryland Transit Administration to resolve a problem of a defective CharmCard.

Today we can report that the problem has been resolved, though it took the Smiths three trips downtown to accomplish that. Here's the word from MTA spokesman Terry Owens:

Thank you for the opportunity to investigate and respond to a complaint about an inoperative CharmCard and MTA’s response.  Since hearing from you we did confirm that Mrs. Smith’s CharmCard is defective, and today she picked up a new card with its full value along with an apology for her wasted time.  Interestingly, there are currently 4,000 cards in operation and this is the very first report we have received about a defective card.

Continue reading "Mrs. Smith gets her CharmCard fixed" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:09 PM | | Comments (4)

Transit savings in Baltimore put at $9,549 a year

The American Publiic Transit Association estimates that a typical commuter to downtown Baltimore could save $9,549 a year by taking bus or rail to work and jettisoning a car.

Now APTA is a trade group and lobbying arm of the nation's transit agencies, so the fact the organization has come up with a large number for Baltimore and other cities is hardly a surprise. (New York tops that list at $13,962 a year.) But for certain commuters who would like to cut household expenses, the Baltimore number might be worth considering. That's $796 a month, if APTA's calaculations are valid.

Here's APTA's explanation of its methodology:



Continue reading "Transit savings in Baltimore put at $9,549 a year" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (7)

October 21, 2010

MTA: CharmCard a work in progress

JIn a recent email, Jerry McCann of Lutherville raised some interesting points about how the MTA's new CharmCard works  on the light rail. We posted it on this blog.

Now  MTA spokesman David Clark has replied on behalf of the agency. Here's what he had to say:

Machines at the Lexington Market Northbound Light Rail Station are temporarily unable to accept CharmCards due to underground utility problems.  Additional notices placed on the TVM’s inform patrons that the machines currently accept “Cash Only” and CharmCard access will be available soon at that location. 

Continue reading "MTA: CharmCard a work in progress" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:03 PM | | Comments (6)

October 14, 2010

CharmCard for seniors due in early 2011

This just in from the MTA website:

Based on card sales and fare purchases, MTA’s new CharmCard has been positively
received by full-fare customers.  The reduced-fare CharmCard for seniors is in the final stages of development, and is scheduled to be available in early 2011. 
When the Senior CharmCard is available the MTA will provide purchase information
at the MTA Reduced Fare Certification Office, at the Transit Store, on transit vehicles, and through direct mail.


Marathon to alter 24 bus routes

One of the charms of the Baltimore Marathon, beside the creative way it tests drivers' ability to cope with street closings, is the effect it has on public transit.

According to the Maryland Transit Administration. 24 of its local bus routes will be altered Saturday as a result of road closings associated with the marathon and its companion Baltimore Running Festival. Just put it down to the price you pay to live in a great American city rather than Palookaville.

The MTA said service would be affected on bus Routes No. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10-13, 15, 19-23, 27, 29, 35, 36, 40, 48, 64, 91 and 98. Details can be found  at the MTA website.


Continue reading "Marathon to alter 24 bus routes" »

October 6, 2010

State starts '511' service for travelers

The State Highway Administration has announced it will launch a free. round-the-clock "511" telephone service to provide real-time traffic information to travelers in the state.

The new system, provided by Televent of Rockville, under a five-year contract with the state worth $4.7 million, will start up in fall 2011, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The SHA wil manage the statewide service, under which the contractor will collect traffic information from a variety of sources and provide it to travelers who place calls to 511. The informatiion will also be  made available through social network operators and a website. The 511 system is later expected to add a personalized service that will alert subscribers to traffic conditions via text messaging.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:55 AM | | Comments (3)

Reader gets confusing signs removed

Getting There reader Roy Sachs sent an email recently with a plea to the Maryland Transit Administration to fix some confusing signage. The message, once forwarded to the MTA, seems to have prompted action. Here's what Sachs said:

Southbound on Reisterstown Road, just before the intersection at Old Court Road, there is a Metro sign, indicating you should turn right at Old Court, to get to a metro station....which is correct.... 

Continue reading "Reader gets confusing signs removed" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:32 AM | | Comments (0)

September 21, 2010

CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says

The chief of the Maryland Transit Administration says the launch Tuesday of the system's new CharmCard electronic payment system is just the first step in an effort to streamline the use of transportation services in the Baltimore region.

MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said at a news conference at the Charles Center Metro Station that  “nothing is  off the table” in terms of future applications of the new “smart cards, which now can be used to pay fares on local buses, the Metro and the light rail system.

“We’re open to anything that will allow more accessibility to various transportation modes,” Wells said at the long-awaited CharmCard, which has been more  than a decade in development.


Continue reading "CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (2)

September 17, 2010

MTA smart card coming Tuesday

After more than a decade of development, the Maryland Transit Administration plans to launch its often-delayed electronic fare payment system Tuesday -- giving rider the option of using a plastic card to use the Metro, light rail and local buses.

MTA spokesman Terrry Owens called the introduction of what will be known as the CharmCard a "huge step forward" for the agency. He said it will be "one of the largest integrated transit  fare payment systems in the  nation."

Continue reading "MTA smart card coming Tuesday" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:21 PM | | Comments (5)

September 16, 2010

Hopkins incident shows haze in official statements

A shooting incident at Johns Hopkins Hospital today provided a vivid illustration of the difficulty officilals have in putting out a consistent message at a time when events are unfolding quickly.

Shortly after the shooting of a physician at the medical complex just before noon, the city police and Hopkins administration were putting out seemlingly contradictory staements about access to the complex.

The police statement, delivered on Twitter, said the incident had been contained and encouraged those with business at Hopkins to come to the medical center. At about the same time, the Hopkins administration was urging people to stay away because of traffic problems caused by the incident.

Continue reading "Hopkins incident shows haze in official statements" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:58 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, MTA bus system, On the roads

Police say Hopkins Hospital open despite incident

Baltimore police issued a statement encouraging people with business at Johns Hopkins Hospital to travel to the medical complex, saying a shooting incident that erupted shortly before noon has been contained to a relatively small part of the campus. However,  officers at the scene were urging visitors to stay away because several major streets are shut down.

The Hopkins administration gave advice  that seemingly contradicted the official police statement on Twitter, urging people to stay away because of traffic problems. "Please note that traffic in the area is very congested. If you don’t need to go to East Baltimore, don’t," the statement said. Hopkins urged people to stay away from the main hospital building and the School  of  Nursing but said the public health  school was open. 

After the shooting, a man  barricaded himself  on the eighth floor of the Nelson Building after having apparently  shot a physician. Shortly bbefore 2  p.m., police reported the suspect had been shot and killed.

Before the man's death, police shut down numerous roads in the vicinity, trying up traffic and forcing the Maryland Transit Administration to reroute buses on its No. 13 route.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said an underground gate leading  from the Hopkins Metro Station to the hospital has been closed. However, he said Metro service had not been interrupted and that passengers can still leave the station via an aboveground exit.

A Sun staff member at the scene said traffic remains open on Orleans and Madison streets but that east-west streets between them, including Monument, are closed. She said Broadway apparently remains open for now but could be shut down. Wolfe Street has been closed between Madison and Orleans, she said.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, MTA bus system, On the roads

August 16, 2010

Metro subway track work planned

The Maryland Transit Administration will perform overnight track maintenance work on the section of the Metro between Rogers Avenue and State Center/Cultural Center  starting Friday. According to the agency, the impact on passengers will be minimal.

The MTA said it would carry out the work, which will continue through Sunday, Aug. 29, between  10  p.m. and  the first scheduled trains of the morning. The  Metro operates from 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and between 6 a.m. and midnight on weekends.

For  those who didn't realize Baltimore has a subway -- and there are many -- it runs 15.5 miles between Owings Mills and Johns Hopkins Hospital. It carries about 45,000 riders a day and is probably the most reliable transit system in the  MTA portfolio.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

August 12, 2010

Get breaking news on traffic, transit here

Has a four-vehicle crash closed the Jones Falls Expressway? Did a light rail train jump the tracks? Are hundreds of passengers stranded on a MARC train?

You can find out fast by receiving text message alerts from The Baltimore Sun's Breaking News Desk. Just click here to sign up to receive traffic alerts and other news as it happens. These are not routine announcements or advisories about everyday congestion but the type of major developments that can help commuters get to home or work faster.

There is no charge for the service from The Sun, though standard test-message charges from cell phone providers may apply.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)

July 30, 2010

MTA explains Metro malfunctions

Earlier this week Getting There published an email from reader Leonard Frankford recounting his problems with the Baltimore Metro. Today brought a reply from the Maryland Transit Administration explaining what went wrong. Herre's what spokesman David Clark  had to say:

Thanks for the opportunity to provide some information about delays on the Metro Subway line described by your reader.

Continue reading "MTA explains Metro malfunctions" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:03 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

July 28, 2010

Metro subway rider has service gripe

Baltimore's Metro subway isn't new and isn't beautiful -- except perhaps to Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells -- but it is probably the most efficient segment of the city's transportation mix. Its on-time percentages are routinely in the high 90s and Geeting There seldom fields complaints from its customers.

 But seldom isn't never, as reader Leonard Frankford shows:

I have been thinking of writing you on a number of topics related to local transportation, but an incident this morning on the subway (Metro) prompter me to bring it to your attention.  I have been a regular user of the Metro since the late 1980s.  I use it almost every day to ride to and from my home in Pikesville to my job at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.  For the most part, I find it runs on time and with few breakdowns.  It is very convenient, and I wish more people would use it.  I am still amused when I hear people tell me they didn’t even know Baltimore had a subway.  This morning, however, something happened that really tested my patience and caused much puzzlement as to how Metro handles these situations. 

Continue reading "Metro subway rider has service gripe" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

July 9, 2010

Maryland gets 3 transit grants -- 2 in city

Maryland projects have been awarded three grants awarded by the Federal Transit Administration, including two in Baltimore and one in Prince George's County.

The Prince George's grant  -- for circulator buses in the south county -- is by far the largest at $4.1 million. The two Baltimore projects are going to Westport ($516,000), where a major redevelopment project is taking shape at the water's edge near the light rail station, and Howard Street ($260,000), where the money will be used to replace light rail and bus shelters.

Greater Greater  Washington reports that the District of Columbia's application for funding of an extension of its H Street Streetcar across the Anacostia River was rejected.

Here's the FTA's description of the winning Maryland projects, which were among 53 selected nationwide

Continue reading "Maryland gets 3 transit grants -- 2 in city" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:58 AM | | Comments (3)

July 8, 2010

MTA extends call center hours

Spurred by recent service disruptions on MARC trains, the Maryland Transit Administration has extended the hours of its customer call center to roughly match the hours commuter rail service operates.

Starting immediately, the call center will remain open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday "until further notice." The center had previously closed  at 7 p.m. --- long before the last MARC trains of the day left their stations.

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells said one of the messages hhe had received in talking with customers is  that they want to be able to reach a knowledgeable  agency representative during service hours. The MTA said it has also designated some of its  agents to  deal specifically with MARC-related issues and to stay in touch with the commuter line's operations staff. The number for MARC-related callls is 1-800-325-7245.

The MTA said it has also extended call center hours for its other rail and bus systems to  the same period as for MARC. That number is 410-539-5000.

Continue reading "MTA extends call center hours" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)

July 1, 2010

MTA non-answers a rider's questions

On Wednesday night, both Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells owned up to the fact the communication with riders is the agency's No. 1 weakness.

It's good that these officials, who seem genuinely concerned about providing good service recognize the problem. But it might be even worse than they think.

Consider the case of Melissa Schober of Baltimore, who wrote a well-reasoned and well-informed email to Wells after a particularly bad commute June 22 -- a night of troubles that was overshadowed by the even worse problems the night before. Schober also had the moxie to share a copy with Getting There, a  practice this blog enthusiastically encourages.

Schober's June 25 email and Wells' reply, attached below, provide a vivid picture of the brain death that affects parts of the MTA. Here they are, you judge:


Mr. Wells:

Tuesday evening I was subject to one of the worst commutes I’ve ever experienced. I boarded the 4:15PMWAS departure train to Baltimore Penn Station. A few minutes after pulling away from the platform, the train experienced partial engine failure. We reversed into the station – a process that took more than 30 minutes – and were shuffled onto another train.

Continue reading "MTA non-answers a rider's questions" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:09 AM | | Comments (3)

June 29, 2010

MTA keeps tight grip on information

The first thing I want to make clear is that Terry Owens, the new chief spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, did not put me up too this. I asked some pointed questions and he gave honest answers. I hope that doesn't get him trouble.

What I asked Owens was simply whether he received a log each morning of incidents that occurred over the previous night.  To me, it seems like a no-brainer to provide such information to the public affairs office as a matter of routine. But his  answer was no. Logs of the previous day's performance are shared with "senior managers" but not the person in charge of answering questions from the media and the public. If somebody inquires about an overnight  lapse in service, the public affairs officer has to go dig out the information from the operations managers.

My experience suggests that these worthies are often less than forthcoming when approached by MTA spokespeople.

Continue reading "MTA keeps tight grip on information" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:59 AM | | Comments (2)

June 28, 2010

MTA email account: Return to sender

If the Maryland Transit Administration is really interested in public comments on its proposed bus route changes, perhaps it should set up an email account that works.

Readers have pointed out -- correctly --  that if you send a comment to the MTA's comment forum at, all you get out of it is a "message undeliverable" reply.

"This isn't the first time this has happened," one reader wrote. "This ranks with when you call to complain about a bus failing to show... the MTA hot line will put you on hold. You stay on the phone waiting for a representative to answer only to find you've waited long enough that the next bus has arrived."

UPDATE FROM MTA: Thank you for alerting us to a problem with the MTA Public Hearing comment email address.  In posting information on the MTA website regarding our public hearing process, the old email address from 2008 was inadvertently posted.  The current email address to send in comments regarding the Public Hearing proposals is  As Director of the MTA Office of Customer Information, I encourage our customers to send in comments until July 23, 2010, 5:00 pm.

Elaine Jones



Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (4)

June 15, 2010

MTA chief outlines priorities

The top official of the Maryland Transit Administration says he's trying to instill a new  culture of individual responsibility and customer service at the often-criticized agency, outlining a series of steps he has taken or plans to take since being appointed to head the MTA last year.

"I'm very frustrated that there's a poor perception of transit,"  said MTA Administrator Ralign Wells. "What I'm trying to do is change the perception of transit."

Wells held a wide-ranging, almost two-hour discussion Monday night with members of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore. But while he found considerable support for his priorities among members of the pro-transit organization, Wells and TRAC politely agreed to disagree on the MTA's most ambitious local project: the proposed east-west Red Line.

Wells, who rose  through the  ranks from bus operator to head of the agency,  presented himself as an unabashed cheerleader for bus and train travel, frequently emphasizing that "I love transit."

Rejecting what he called some legislators' portrayal  of transit as "welfare transportation," Wells argued that the service is vital to society. "Public transit is a public service -- not unlike a police department or a fire department,"  he said. "If you're not using it, it's still benefiting you" -- by keeping other vehicles off the roads.

The Sun/Kenneth Lam

Continue reading "MTA chief outlines priorities" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:46 AM | | Comments (23)

June 14, 2010

MTA chief to speak tonight at TRAC

Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign Wells will appear tonight at the general membership meeting of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore tonight at 6 p.m.

Wells is expected to speak and answer questions at the meeting in the board room of the Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations, 190 W. Ostend St. It was nice of TRAC to point out that the location can be reached via the No. 1 and No. 64 buses, as well as light rail. It would have been even  better if the group had pointed out that the location is right on the route of the free (but non-MTA) Charm City Circulator Purple Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)

June 9, 2010

MTA launches 'keep off tracks' campaign

The Maryland Transit Administration is launching an advertising campaign to pound home the message that people need to be aware of the dangers of railroad tracks.

 It's a sensitive subject at the MTA, which was rocked by the deaths of two teenagers who wandered onto its light rail tracks last July and were run over by  a train a train that was going in a direction they apparently didn't suspect.

The theme of the campaign is: "Any track, any direction, any time."  Marylanders can expect to see the message in print ads, brochures and on television and  to hear it on radio. The ad campaign goes in hands with other measures MTA took after the fatalities to prevent trespassing on its tracks and to warn of possible intrusions. They include changes in signage, reporting requirements and alert systems.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:20 PM | | Comments (6)

Metro alert brings compliment to MTA

Usually, communications between customers and the Maryland Transit Administration are a  tale of angst and woe (at least the ones I hear about), but there are exceptions. One is this exchange between Metro rider Alisa Bralove-Scherr and MTA Administrator Ralign Wells regardiing the MTA's pilot project of reviving its once-faulty emmail notification system for the subway.

Wells says the test is going well and that he hopes to relaunch the service for all riders soon.


I wanted to let you know how happy I was to receive my first text message alerting me to a delay on the subway today. That, and the three updates that followed, were very helpful in keeping me informed of the power outage that shut down service between the Old Court and Owings Mills stations.

The best thing of all? The subway was back on line to Owings Mills soon after I boarded for my commute back home. As a state employee whose job it is to handle complaints, I know that it is rare for people to let you know when things are going smoothly. That's why I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate the text alert.


Alisa Bralove-Scherr

Hello Ms. Bralove-Scherr,

Thanks for the kind words.  We are still in the early phases of bringing the system back on line and are still making some minor tweaks.  In a sense we are using our riders who were already signed up for the e-notification as a “test” group before we open it up for others to sign up for the service.  I expect that we will be officially bringing the system on-line very soon.

As always, I appreciate your feedback…especially when it’s good news.  Take care of yourself and thanks again for helping me start my day out in a positive way!




Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

June 3, 2010

Feds seek public input on transit project criteria

Here's an opportunity for those with strong feelings about the Red Line, Purple Line or other proposed transit projects to weigh in on the criteria the federal government uses to evaluate proposals for such infrastructure investments.

The Federal Transit Administration, which under the Obama administration has altered Bush administration rules subjecting such proposals to a rigid cost-benefit test,  is seeking public comments on changes to its rating system. According to the FTA, it is seeking better ways to reflect the community benefits of transit projects.

The FTA is seeking comments at the federal government's Regulations website as well as holding public meetings -- the first two of which will take place next week:

TRB Environment and Energy Research Conference
Raleigh Convention Center
500 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Monday, June 7 at 4:30 p.m.
APTA 2010 Rail Conference
Hyatt Regency Vancouver
655 Burrard Street
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6C 2R7
Tuesday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. (Federal Register reflects 2:30 p.m. start time. It will be corrected.)


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)

A view from the right on the MTA

For a view from the right on the Maryland Transit Administration, you need go no farther than the Red Maryland blog, where Brian Griffiths holds forth on the state of the MTA. It came to my attention recently that Griffiths was complaining that because of alleged leftist leanings I wouldn't link to his posts when I was linking to Maryland Politics Watch. In fact he never asked me to do so or even called attention to his work.

This doesn't constitute an endorsement of Griffith views, any more than I endorse those of Maryland Politics Watch. I would note, however, that the MPW article I most recently linked to -- though it had a point of view -- was solidly grounded in hard data.

The Red Maryland article, on the other hand, was almost entirely grounded in ideology. Entitled "Starve the Beast," it contains such gems as: "If I were in charge of the MTA, I would take steps to make the Agency profitable. There are ways to make the system self-sufficient without making the system unsafe or transit fares unaffordable to average riders."

Continue reading "A view from the right on the MTA" »

June 2, 2010

Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan

In his role as the state's coordinator of military base relocation actions, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown says the state will spend  $200,000 toward creation of Maryland's first "guaranteed ride home" program to provide Fort Meade transit users with an emergency backup plan.

Brown, chairman of the Governor's Subcabinet on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), announced the ride initiative as part of an overall Transportation Demand Management Plan for Fort Meade.

The guaranteed-ride program is based on a 13-year-old program in the  Washington area that ensures rides home during the day for transit riders who need a ride home because of an unexpected emergency  or because they have to work unscheduled overtime.

Under that program, registered participants who use transit  twice a week or more are eligible for up to four free rides home each year. The rides are provided by taxi or rental car, depending on distance. Commuters must work in the Baltimore Metropolitan area and live in a somewhat larger region that includes the metro area plus  parts of the Eastern Shore and southern Pennsylvania.



Continue reading "Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)

May 12, 2010

MTA lists Preakness options

A reader had a reasonable inquiry about the avaialability of transit service to the Preakness on Saturday. Not long after that, the Maryland Transit Administration sent me the following news release answering those questions:

 (BALTIMORE, MD) May 13, 2010 – By taking MTA’s Local Bus, Metro Subway, or Light Rail services to Pimlico Race Course, Preakness fans can relax and avoid traffic delays and parking hassles.

On Saturday, May 15, 2010 shuttle buses will run between the Rogers Avenue Metro Subway station, the Cold Spring Lane Light Rail stop and Poly-Western High School to accommodate fans. All shuttle service will run from 8 AM until 2 PM and resume after Preakness (10th race) has been run until approximately 7:30 PM. Since each rail or bus boarding requires payment of a fare, riders are encouraged to purchase Day Passes for $3.50 ($1.20 for seniors and people with disabilities with MTA-issued identification).

The best transit options to Preakness are as follows:


Continue reading "MTA lists Preakness options" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:11 PM | | Comments (0)

March 30, 2010

MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking volunteers to help test its planned "smart" electronic fare card, which is now scheduled to roll  out this fall.

The new card will allow passengers to pay the exact amount of their fare out of pre-established accounts by tapping the card against a sensor or the gate or  farebox.

The test of the unfortunately named CharmCard -- aren't you all sick of this Charm City this, Charm Ciity that? -- will include local buses and the Metro subway as well as bus and rail transit services in the Washhington area.

Continue reading "MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:42 AM | | Comments (11)

March 29, 2010

MTA chief weighs in on communication issues

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells plans to disable some of the agency's less reliable email notification services and go back to the drawing board.

Wells says he's been disappointed with the performance of the services that are supposed to notify passengers of problems on the Metro subway and bus lines. He plans to discontinue them until they can be done right.

The MTA chief called to follow up on a complaint registered recently by Alisa Bralove-Scherr about a problem she had with the Metro in which the email notification service failed her. Bralove-Scherr had arrived at the Owings Mills station anout 9:30 one morning only to be told the station was closed and that she would have to go to Old Court to catch a train. None of the MTA employees she encountered could explain what happened.

Continue reading "MTA chief weighs in on communication issues" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:28 PM | | Comments (4)

March 25, 2010

Metro customer's plight explained (lamely)

Remember the plight of Alisa Bralove-Scherr, who wrote Getting There to describe how she was turned away from Owings Mills station the other morning with no reason being given? She was wondering why, when she moved on to Old Court station to pick up her train, an MTA employee had no idea what was going on.

Well, the MTA now has an explanation -- albeit a  lame one.

According to the MTA's  Angela White, the MTA was conducting maintenance for 40 minutes Tuesday morning -- just as Bralove-Scherr arrived  at Owings Mills for her train. She said the service was restored before 10 a.m. -- but that was too late to help Bralove-Scherr.

White said the station manager and train operator had been informed of the decision to temporarily close the Owings Mills station. She did not know why that information was not passed on to customers.

So why would the MTA be doing maintenance work that would close a station down on a weekday morning? No word as yet.

Continue reading "Metro customer's plight explained (lamely)" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:09 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

March 23, 2010

MTA Metro customer turned aside, left in dark

To be fair to the Maryland Transit Administration. I don't get many complaints about the Baltimore Metro subway. It imploded a bit after the recent snowstorms, which put the aboveground part of the system out of commission for aboutt a week, but most of the time it performs wiith boring efficiency -- even if it's not the most beautiful or versatile transit line on the planet.

This morning, however, brought a heartfelt complaint from  an aggrieved custoemr, Alisa Bralove-Scherr,  who  shared with Getting There a copy of the letter she wrote to MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells. Here's what she had to say:


Dear Mr. Wells,
I was excited when, after last month's blizzards, you vowed to improve communication between the MTA and its passengers. Unfortunately, today showed me that the subway system is still business as usual.
I was turned away from the Owings Mills station this morning and told the train was only running to Old Court. I arrived at Old Court to find dozens of people on the platform. The MTA employee working in the booth said he hadn't been told anything and didn't know when we should expect the next train.

Continue reading "MTA Metro customer turned aside, left in dark" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:27 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

March 16, 2010

Baltimore Metro compares well on speed

The Greater Greater Washington blog is running a chart that provides an interesting comparison ofr heavy rail subway systems in the United States. It turns out that Baltimore's Metro is one of the speedier in that category. It may not get many places, but where it does it gets there fast.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:33 PM | | Comments (3)

March 9, 2010

MTA trip planner is up and running

The Maryland Transit Administration got some grief on this blog last week for the dysfuctional state of the trip planner on its web site -- and the fact the agency wasn't telling its customers the service was out of order.

But now the planner is back on line and dispensing useful information about which buses and rail lines will get you where. The MTA is to be commended for its timely recovery.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:26 PM | | Comments (4)

March 5, 2010

U.S. announces transit grants for Maryland

Maryland willl receive an additional $26.3 milllion in federal stimulus money for transit improvements ranging from buses in rural areas to better speakers at MARC sttations, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday.

According to the U.S. Transportation Department, the Maryland Transit Administration will receive these grants:

• $17.1 million toward rebuilding the  bus loop at the MTA’s Mondawmin Transit Center; heating and ventilation upgrades; light rail yard switches upgrades and replacement or overhaul of 24 rail substation circuit breakers.

• $4.3 million for facility renovations, preventative maintenance, shop equipment and parking lot construction.

• $2.9 million to improve MARC public address systems.

• $2 million to purchase nine buses for transit systems in rural areas of the state.

The money is part of the $48.1 billion available nationwide  under last  year's stimulus legislation for highway and bridge,  transit, shipyard and airport construction an repairs.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:36 PM | | Comments (4)

March 1, 2010

MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon

The out-of-order trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration web site will be back in operation soon, MTA spokeswoman Angela White says.

White said the service stopped working because of a snow-related lapse in recertifying the schedule information used to generate the trip plans. Google Transit, which provides the platform for the service, requires participating transit agencies to periodically certify that their information is correct.

White said the MTA was in the process of recertifying the data when the first of two snowstorms hit Feb. 5. She noted work at the agency was disrupted for about a week when state government was shut down and when many employees couldn't make it to work. She initally said it would be restored by late this week or early next week, but later said the service could be fixed even sooner.

The spokeswoman said she did not know why the MTA initially failed to post on its web site the fact that the trip planner was out of order. Before late Monday, when the MTA put up a notice in response to a call from Getting There, users of the service did not learn it wasn't working until they had filled out their address information.


Continue reading "MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (4)

MTA trip planner isn't working

The Google Transit-powered trip planner on the Maryland Transit Administration's web site isn't working. According to a reader, it's been out of operation for several weeks.

These things happen, but why wouldn't the MTA put a notice on its web site informing customers the service is out of order? This appears to be part of a pattern with the MTA of treating its web site as an afterthought instead of using it as a powerful tool to communicate with riders.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)

February 16, 2010

MTA Metro rider finds woe in the snow

The Big Snows of February 2010 have spawned many a commuting horror story, but Tony Todesco's tale of his woes on the Baltimore Metro and its shuttle bus "replacement" ranks right up there. Methinks Maryland Transit Administrator Ralign Wells has an apology letter to compose. If he needs any groveling tips, his predecessor, Paul J. Wiedefeld, was really good at self-abasement in the cause of customer service.

Todesco writes:

When I got to the Old Court Metro station on Friday morning, I learned that the Metro was only operating underground from Mondawmin to Hopkins, but there was a bus to transport patrons to Mondawmin to get the Metro.  Before getting on the bus, I asked the driver which bus I should take to return later that night.  He told me to take the #59. (this has meaning later in the story)

Continue reading "MTA Metro rider finds woe in the snow" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:57 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

December 31, 2009

MTA modifies bus routes due to snow

The Maryland Transit Administration is keeping its bus routes rolling, but in many cases, it has modified routes as a concession to the snow. Here's the damages, straight from the MTA:

10:00am latest update:

MARC Train is operating on S schedule and experiencing 10-20 minute delays.
Metro and Light Rail are on schedule.

The following diversions are posted on the website.  A link was put on the Special Announcements section.
No. 1 Terminates at Mondawmin.
No. 5 Bus by-passing Park ave.
No. 9  Bus terminate at  Ridgley and Cranbrook.
No. 13 Bus by-passing Edgewood, staying on Dennison.
No. 15 Bus terminates at Walbrook Junction. West bound left at Guildford, right at Fayette, right at Park, left at Saratoga. Will service White Marsh Mall.
No. 16 Bus by-passing Violet Ville and Brooklyn area.
No. 20 Bus is by-passing St. Agnes Hospital, and Culver and Monastery
No. 22 Bus terminates at Eastern &  Ponca – bypass Bay view.
No. 23 Bus  by-passing Wildwood Parkway
No. 23 and 40 use Lombard to Ponca to Eastern in both directions.
Nos. 27, 29, and 51 Buses are staying on Cherry Hill Road
Nos. 10, 35, 33 and 27 pulled off the street.
No. 36 Bus  by-passing Argonne Drive, staying on the Alameda
No. 40 WB will terminate at Edmondson Village, not servicing Rt 40 & Rolling Rd.
No. 44 Bus WB from Rosedale will terminate at Northern Parkway @ York.  EB from Security will terminate at Sinai.
***All services will by-pass the Bay view Medical Center***


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (1)

December 23, 2009

Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009

Apart from disasters, transportation stories tend to unfold over the course of many years. Some of the ones that garner big headlines at the time will be all but forgotten in a few years time. So in choosing the Top 10 Maryland transportation stories of the past decade, it helps to project forward to 2020 or 2030 and look back at what made a lasting difference.

A little disclosure is in order. I have covered transportation for The Sun since 2004 and before that followed many transportation-related stories as a State House Bureau reporter. So there might be a bias in favor of the stories I covered. (Thanks to my colleague Scott Calvert to reminding me of the Howard Street Tunnel fire, which occurred before my time on the beat.)

With those caveats, I present my top 10 in the bottom-to-top format made wildly popular by David Letterman:

10. Light rail double-tracking project completed. When Baltimore's light rail system opened early in the 1990s, it soon became clear that the system had been built on the cheap. The decision to run trains on a single track over long stretches led to constant delays and operational difficulties. Thus, under the Glendening administration, the decision was made to add a second track. The Ehrlich administration then made a tough decision to expedite the work by closing down the southern and northern stretches of the system for periods of about a year. It was a rough time for light rail users, but the project was finally completed in early 2006, and the result has been much more reliable service on this still image-impaired system.


                                                                                                 Sun photo/Amy Davis/2006      

Continue reading "Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:33 AM | | Comments (7)

December 22, 2009

Md. cost of weekend snow removal: $26.9 million

Last weekend’s record December snowfall cost the Maryland Department of Transportation a budget-busting $26.9 million for snow removal, Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Tuesday. The storm, which dumped an estimated 16-26 inches on various parts of the state, required a massive and expensive response by all of the transportation department’s operating agencies – from the State Highway Administration to the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The largest share was accounted for by the highway agency, with $20 million in costs. After several earlier snowfalls, the SHA’s spending on snow removal has reached $27 million this season -- exceeding its budget of $26 million with more than two months of winter to go, according to MDOT. Snow removal at BWI Marshall Airport cost $2.7 million, while the Maryland Transit Administration spent $2.3 million to keep its buses and transit lines rolling. The Maryland Transportation Authority spent $1.1 million to clear thhe state’s toll facilities, while it cost the port of Baltimore $533,000 to keep its terminals operating..

"Combating a storm like the one Maryland faced this weekend is a necessary but expensive proposition," Swaim-Staley said. "Agency administrators understand that they will have to make adjustments in other areas of their operating budgets to cover any overage of their annual snow removal budget."

December 21, 2009

MTA keeps going through the snow


                                                                                        The Sun/Karl Merton Ferron            

An MTA bus passenger waits for a ride Saturday.          

The Maryland Transit Administration did a little crowing Monday -- but I don't think you can blame the agency. They kept the buses and trains rolling through the worst of the weekend's snowstorm.

In a news release Monday, the agency noted that it kept local bus, light rail and Metro subway servvice going through the worst of the storm. It might not have run perfectly -- who could expect that with 21 inches of snow coming down? -- but it never ground to a halt as some regional transit agencies did.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley had good reason to be proud of her people when she released the following statement.

Despite severe weather conditions, the MTA maintained service throughout the
blizzard. I have tremendous pride in our employees who persevered, literally, in the eye of the storm to keep our service moving assafely and efficiently as possible.

The MTA's operations people deserve such kudos. It was a tough job -- especially with the Ravens hosting a game Sunday. And they came through. That's what happens when you let real professionals run a transit system.

December 8, 2009

MTA delays smart cards but takes plastic

The Maryland Transit Administration has delayed its plans to introduce "smart card" technology for payment of fares for about six months -- pushing its goal to next fall.

 The agency had previously estimated that it would introduce the smart cards -- which allow riders to store value on the cards and speed up payments -- this winter. But MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the agency had decided it needed to conduct additional beta testing on the bus and light rail systems after finishing such tests on the Metro subway.

"We're going to give you the best product we can when it's ready," she said.

Giving its passengers a kind of consolation prize, the MTA also announced Tuesday it has equipped its subway stations with payment machines that now take credit cards as well as cash. The MTA said the machines will accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.

The agency also said it expects to have all its light rail stations ready to take credit cards within the next 90 days.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:05 PM | | Comments (10)

December 4, 2009

Wells appointment getting good reviews

Gerald Neilly welcomes the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as chief of the Maryland Transit Administration in an article in The Baltimore Brew.

It's just one of the favorable reactions I've been hearing to the promotion of the 42-year-old former bus operator to the top MTA post.

Ed Cohen, former president of the Transit Riders Action Council, knows the Balltimore bus, Metro and light rail system about as well as anyone on the planet. His verdict: "He's the best guy MTA has."

Cohen said Wells, who had been the deputy administrator for operations, was the candidate transit folks had been rooting for ever since the departure of Paul J. Wiedefeld was announced.

"He loves his job. He loves trying to make transit better to the extent he can," Cohen said. "He's a guy that really relished tthe challenge and it'ss that character trait that is reallly going to  mean good things for MTA."

Meanwhile, deputy Baltiimore transportation director Jamie Kendrick called the choice by Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley "phenomenal," adding that Wells  has the support of the agency rank-and-file.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:22 AM | | Comments (1)

December 3, 2009

Wells appointment at MTA lauded

The news of the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as chief of the Maryland Transit Administration brought this reaction from Ken Chapman, a retired MTA employee who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.:

As a recent, 31 year retired MTA management employee (November 2008), I certainly applaud the decision by both the Secretary and Governor to appoint Mr. Wells as MTA Administrator. I happen to be an employee who also came up through the ranks, working in several departments. And yes, Mr. Wells is the ONLY employee who managed to come up through the ranks and land the Administrator’s job. He is not a political type who relies on politicians to get a job or advance his career. Mr. Wells is simply a transit official who is very well respected and comes with great leadership abilities.

Mr. Walter J. Addison was the first MTA Administrator, followed by Kimble, Wagner, Hartman, Agro, Freeland, White (Acting), Smith, Dickerson and Wiedefeld. In addition, Mr. Wells has experienced Deputies who should serve him well. I know. I worked with all of them and they certainly understand what it takes to advance transit in Maryland.

By the way, the salary of the new MTA chhief will be $183,000.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:04 AM | | Comments (0)

December 2, 2009

Former bus driver Wells is new MTA chief

Ralign WellsMaryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley announced the appointment Wednesday of former bus driver Ralign T. Wells to head the Maryland Transit Administration.

Wells, an MTA veteran who is now deputy administrator for operations, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who is leaving the MTA after almost three years as administrator to return to his old job as chief executive of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

In choosing the 42-year-old Wells for the $183,000 post, Swaim-Staley and Gov. Martin O'Malley are turning to a veteran MTA insider who began his career at the agency two decades ago as a bus operator. At the MTA, Wells has served in a variety of positions, including deputy director of bus operations and director of Metro subway operations.

Swaim-Staley said Wells was responsible for implementing a new MTA scheduling policy that cut the agency's overtime budget by 26 percent in eight months.



Ralign T. Wells

November 23, 2009

Metro to resume full weekend schedule

The Baltimore Metro, which has maintained a diminished weekend schedule since June for track maintenance work, has resumjed its regular schedule of runing trains at 15-minute intervals on Saturdays and Sundays.

During the project, about a mile of  the system's main line had to  be single-tracked on weekends, forcing the Maryland Transit Administration to run trains less frequently.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

October 7, 2009

Metro going back to 4-car trains on weekends


Sun photo/Kim Hairston                     

Ed Cohen, past president of the Transit Riders Action Council and a vigilant watchdog when it comes to the Maryland Transit Administration, called to report severe overcrowding on the Metro subway on Saturdays since the MTA began running trains at 20-minute intervals instead of the previous 15-minute headways.

Cohen (above) said  that after making the change recently, the MTA continued to run two-car trains -- which became jam-packed as the numbers of rider per train swelled.

Now the MTA has reversed course. An agency spokesperson said MTA personnel noticed the same thing and decided to go to four-cars trains on weekends to alleviate the crowding. She said the new policy was in place last weekend.

The spokesperson said the MTA will run six-car trains Saturday because of the Baltimore marathon but will go back to four-car trains Sunday when the Ravens play.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:41 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

September 9, 2009

Blog weighs in on Yellow Line idea

I just stumbled across the Transport Politic blog, which gives some extensive coverage to a recent proposal to advance the proposed Yellow Line from Towson to Columbia ahead of an extension of the Green Line.

I share the concerns that light rail to Columbia may be too slow to compete with autos. The public transit solution I'd suggest for Columbia is an express bus between the BWI Business District Light Rail station and Columbia Town Center. I don't see that it would kill the 310 or 320 commuter  bus routes, as one reader suggested, though it might lead to their being reconfigured. I see the express bus serving a much broader group of riders with seven-day-a-week service that would extend the existing light rail without the expense of an actual rail line.

Any thoughts?




Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:48 PM | | Comments (8)

September 8, 2009

Yellow Line may not be golden

Dave Murphy has an insightful article on the Greater Greatter Washington blog criticizing the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance's call to jump the Towson-Columbia Yellow Line ahead of a northeastern extension of the existing Metro subway (Green Line).

Briefly, Murphy questions the usefulness of the southern part of the proposed Yellow Line between Columbia and BWI. As much as I like the idea of rail  transit serving my neighborhood -- not that I'd still be mobile by the time it's built -- he might have a point there. Columbia could probably be served faster and more economically with the creation of an express bus route between the BWI Business District light rail station and Columbia Town Center. That would be about a 30-minute run on Route 100. If the light rail and bus schedules were properly synchronized, that could be a robust transit alternative that wouldn't have to wait decades to become a reality.

Howard Transit's Silver Line already makes the BWI-Columbia run but its many stops make for a long, long trip. An express version of that route would increase the usefulness of the entire system.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, Local bus lines, MTA bus system

September 1, 2009

MTA seeking volunteers to test smart card

The Maryland Transit Administration is still seeking about 250 volunteers  to help test its new MTA CharmCard, what it calls a “smart” fare card that it hopes will expedite the fare collection process. The MTA plans to introduce the cards in a movfe that would finally match a  technology that has been familiar on the Washington Metro system for years.

The folks the  MTA is looking for are full-fare cash customers who ride Metro Subway more than other MTA services and who will agree to purchase your fares during the test period from a ticket vending machine at a Metro Subway station Ticket Vending Machine. Riders on senior or disability fares and  Commuter Choice Maryland voucher recipients are not eligible to participate in the initial field test. MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said about 250 of the 500 volunteers originally sought have signed up.

Would-be participants can sign up electronically by clicking this link.

The test will run 60 days (Oct. 1 – Nov. 30). At the end of the test period, participants must return their cards to  the MTA Transit Store  at 6 St. Paul St. Volunteers will receive a free January 2010  monthly pass as a bonus.

UPDATE: In response to a reader's question, no, the CharmCard will not be interoperable with Washington Metro trains and buses during the beta test. But the two systems' cards  are expected to be compatible once CharmCard (hate that name) is in full operation.

By the way, this test does mean the MTA is pushing back full introduction of the card its earlier goal of October to the beginning of the year, Greene acknowledged. Better they get it right, I suppose.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:57 PM | | Comments (9)

Have Metro operators learned how to stop?

Jed Weeks, a frequent poster to this blog, is keeping a close eye on the workings of Baltimore's Metro, which is seldom seen by many of us. Here's his observation:

 I've noticed recently that MTA is running two-car trains on the weekends. This is combined with the increased 20 minute headway due to track work, according to the website. I don't see it as a problem really, because the system is so deserted on the weekends, but operators have yet to choose a method of stopping at stations. Some trains are stopping mid platform, and others are pulling to the end of the platform, causing confusion for riders.
On the DC Metro, 4 and 6 car trains pull to the end of the platform, and announce this somewhat frequently (though the announcements are somewhat confusing). Perhaps MTA should do the same here?

I ran this by MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, who responded without delay:

Each station has designated stops depending on the size of the train. The platforms are approximately 450 feet which is the length of a 6 car train. The stop locations, which are marked in the track bed, have been set so that a train berth or stops an equal distance from the front and rear of the platform. The only one that is different is Lexington Market where the two car marker is set between the escalators because this is area where most customers wait for the train.

When operating in Automatic Train Operations, the operator programs the length of his train into the train's system. The train's system reads the information from the track circuits which indicates the stopping location in the station.
In manual mode the operator stops the train at the proper car marker.
Essentially, the stop locations can vary. Operators always try to make sure they don't inconvenience the riders.

The operative word, it seems, is "try."



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

July 20, 2009

Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea

By Michael Dresser

Maryland’s acting transportation chief, citing concerns about privacy, has pulled back an internal proposal to use listening devices on its buses and trains for recording conversations of passengers and employees.

The Maryland Transit Administration had been considering adopting a system that would allow it to conduct audio surveillance similar to that in several other large American cities.

The idea was first reported late last week by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, which reported that the MTA’s top official had requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on the legality of such surveillance.

After inquiries from The Sun Monday, acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley ordered the request withdrawn.

 "It certainly should have been vetted at the department level and it was not," she said. "We have not weighed the issues we should weigh before making a decision like this."

Swaim-Staley said she would review whether the state would move forward with such a program.

"Any privacy matters are of the ultimate importance," said Swaim-Staley. "They’re the ultimate test of people’s trust in government."

 The request to the attorney general had sought legal guidance on whether using such equipment would violate Maryland’s anti-wiretapping law.

Continue reading "Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:39 PM | | Comments (1)

MTA thinking of listening in? Never mind

Update: Maryland Transportation Administration Acting Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said Monday evening that she has withdrawn the following request to the attorney general for a legal opinion, saying the matter should have been reviewed at the department  level before the MTA sought legal advice.

Swaim-Staley took the action after the following was reported here early Monday.

The MTA is considering installing audio surveillance equipment on its buses and trains to record conversations of passengers and employees, according to a letter sent by the MTA's top official to the state Attorney General's Office.

The letter, reported by the Maryland Politics Watch blog, seeks legal guidance on whether installing such equipment would violate Maryland's anti-wiretapping law. In his letter, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld notes that the MTA already uses video cameras for security aboard its vehicles.

"As part of MTA's ongoing efforts to deter criminal activity and mitigate other dangerous situations on board its vehicles, Agency management has considered adding audio recording equipment to the video recording technology now  in use throughout its fleet," Wiedefeld wrote.

According to the administrator, the MTA staff decided the idea raised legal issues and decided to send a letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general on whether such electronic eavesdropping  would be legal and, if so, under which circumstances.

Whether legal or not, the notion didn't play well with Paul Gordon, who broke the story on the Montgomery County-based blog.

"Personally, I find the idea of the state recording people’s conversations on public transportation creepy, something I would expect from the old Soviet Union," Gordon wrote.

I was reminded this weekend during a trip to Artscape on light rail that  one of the chief sources of amusement aboard public transit are the too-loud and uninhibited conversations of fellow passengers. It would be a shame if riders were cowed into silence by the fear that someone in authority was recording their descriptions of their wild weekends.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:57 AM | | Comments (6)

July 9, 2009

MTA falls in line with WMATA cell/text policy


The Maryland Transit Administration has adopted a zero-tolerance policy under which any operator found to have been using a cell phone or text-messaging device on the job will be fired even if it is a first offense.
The MTA took the action shortly after the Washington Metro system announced a similar change Thursday morning in which it scrapped a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy and said it would fire violators outright.
The decision by Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld came about an hour after The Sun inquired about the MTA’s policy in light of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration’s announcement. At first, the MTA said it was sticking by its policy that it “can” fire violators. Under the new policy, the MTA says it  “will”fire operators who text or use cell phones while at the controls.

Continue reading "MTA falls in line with WMATA cell/text policy" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, Local bus lines, MTA bus system

MTA: 'Can' fire texting operators, not 'will fire'

In response to Washington Metro announcement noted below, I asked Maryland Transit Administration Jawauna Greene what is the MTA's policy on cell phone use or texting by operators.

According to Greene, while the MTA forbids cell phone use or text-messaging while operating one of its vehicles, it does not have a "zero-tolerance" policy. Noting that the MTA has a union contract to consider, Greene said the MTA's policy is that if an investigation shows an operator did use a cell  phone or text-messaging device while in charge of a vehicle, management "can" terminate that employee.

There's a world of difference between "can fire" and "will fire," and if texting or cell phone use is found to have any connection with Sunday's fatal light rail accident, I suspect that will change in a hurry.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:28 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

Unsolicited advice for the MTA

Here's a little unsolicited advice for the Maryland Transit Administration: Ban the word "minor" from your web site and communications with customers.

 No "minor" delays. No "minor" disruptions. No "minor" trouble. To the customers affected by delays, disruptions and other troubles, noting is more infuriating than to hear their problems dismissed as minor.

The word also often turns out to be wrong, as it did on the MARC Penn Line Wednesday morning. It was bad enough that one of the trains took 3 1/2 hours to get from Baltimore to Washington. Riders found it especially galling to see that the MTA was characterizing the delays as "minor."

So let the edict go out: The MTA may have delays, disruptions and troubles, but the minors are in Salisbury, Bowie and Frederick.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:57 AM | | Comments (3)

July 2, 2009

Reader warns of irrational transit-phobia

Every once and a while I get an email that displays uncommon good sense in the face of nonsense. This, from Terry Shepard of Baltimore, is one of them. After passing  along some compliments that are too extravagant to inflict on readers, Shepard writes concerning the June 22 Metro crash that killed nine in Washington:

The Sun and other papers continue to run follow-up stories on it and that is understandable.  What is less explicable is the employment of this accident by some to spread fear of and opposition to public transit.  Auto commuters say "See, that's why I don't ride transit" and even the Sun ran one of its reader polls on whether this would make people less likely to do so. 

Meanwhile, a June 30 story in the Sun reports on "a tractor-trailer that plowed into stalled cars in a turnpike accident that killed 10 people" and no one is running polls or saying "See, that's why I don't drive on the highway."  (I realize that crash was in Oklahoma, but you get the point.)

This despite the fact, reported in a June 24 story in the Sun, that:  "According to the National Safety Council, the number of accident fatalities per vehicle miles traveled is about 14 times worse for passenger cars than trains and subways. Only transit buses are considered safer."

Perhaps you could repeat those statistics and interview a psychologist who works on transportation as to why people refuse to accept this (beyond the obvious answer that many Americans reject facts that suggest they should get out of their cars and ride on public transit with people they don't know.)

As you know and have argued, more and better mass transit are both possible and absolutely vital if we are to avoid killing our environment, our cities and ourselves.  Americans must get past their unreasoning fear of transit and you can help them do it:

I have to disagree, Terry. If anyone, you are the one that can help them do it. And just have. Thanks.

I don't think you need a psychologist to explain what's at  work: Transit is unfamiliar to most middle-class, auto-oriented Americans. Cars are something they encounter every day. That  which is unfamiliar is more scary than what is familiar, even when the familiar is demonstrably more dangerous. Transit also involves contact with unfamiliar people.

The point on the poll is well-taken. It should be noted that it comes with the disclaimer: "results not scientific." Still, it is encouraging that only 17 percent answered yes. And I'm going to venture an unscientific guess that those most of those folks don't ride transit now.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)

July 1, 2009

Baltimore subway passes safety test

Baltimore subway

A Maryland Transit Administration official said early Wednesday morning that Baltimore's Metro subway had passed reliability tests on its control and collision prevention system.

Conducted in the aftermath of the fatal June 22 crash of two Washington Metro trains, MTA testing engineer John Forbes said a third night of so-called "integrity tests" was completed about 3:30 a.m. and the examination had found "no anomalies whatsoever" in the speed controls on one of the two tracks from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Owings Mills.

Forbes said the other track was found to have no speed control problems the previous night, while a test of the Metro's collision avoidance system last week also uncovered no malfunctions.

Posted by Maryann James at 8:53 AM | | Comments (0)

June 23, 2009

Baltimore Metro has one fatality on record


baltimore metro


 Baltimore Sun file photo / 2005
UPDATE: MTA spoeswoman Jawauna Greene said late Tuesday that she had  learned there had been one fatal accident  involving an MTA employee in the Metro  trainyard in the first few years after the subway opened,

According to the Maryland Transit Administration, there has never been a only one fatal crash involving an employee or a passenger on its Metro subway in nearly 26 years of operation.

That contrasts with the record of Washington's Metro system, which after Monday's crash that killed nine has at least 17 fatalities on its record since opening in 1976. (Both totals exclude suicides by jumping on the tracks.)

 Admittedly, Washington's system is much larger than Baltimore's one-line wonder, but zero one is still zero zero and 17 is still 17.

For those who think the comparison is unfair to DC Metro, consider: Which transit system has the resources and cahet to attract the "best and brightest" in transit? Baltimore's system may be rinky-dink, but safe rinky-dink beats dangerous world-class.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

June 2, 2009

New MTA "smart" card to work on D.C. metro

According to Maryland Transit Administration spokeswoman Jawauna Greene, the MTA has worked out an agreement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration that would let holders of the soon-to-be-introduced MTA "smart cards" use them on the Washington Metro system and WMATA-operated buses.

WMATA users would also be able to use their SmarTrip cards on MTA buses, the Baltimore Mettro and the light rail (not MARC).

This makes so much sense it's a surprise it could actually happen.

These smart cards, which store value added in advance, make the experience of riding public transit much smoother. Users can eliminate much of the fumbling for change that complicates a simple bus or rail trip.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:00 PM | | Comments (5)

A lesson learned on the Baltimore Metro

I expected a lot of horror stories in response to my posing noting a curious absence of bad news out of the Maryland Transit Administration in recent weeks.

So far, not much, except for this account of a robbery on the subway from Alisa Bralove-Scherr of Owins Mills. I thought it was worth passing on as a cautionary tale.

For the record, people I trust have told me that crime on the Metro subway is  not all running rampant because tthere is extensive surveillance camera coverage. But, unlike in DC, there are times when you don't feel the comfort of being in a crowd in the Baltimore Metro.

I'm a state employee and I take the subway from Owings Mills to Charles Center everyday. On Wednesday I left early to go to a doctor's appointment.
It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when the train pulled into the Rogers Ave. station. The doors opened and the kid sitting in front of my grabbed my iPod out of my hand and took off.
I sprung up and immediately started chasing him and yelling for the police. I followed him down the escalator. He jumped the turnstyle; I didn't.
There was an MTA police officer standing there as he ran out of the station. She was very nice in taking the report but kept repeating that I should never use a cell phone or an iPod on the subway because this happens every day. The MTA employee working in the booth told me the same thing.
The officer also noted that she didn't even pay any attention when she heard me running and screaming after the kid because the kids do that all of the time.

It was strange because I had a funny feeling a little before the kid made his move. He and two boys who sat behind me had gotten on after I did. The two behind me were clearly trying to shock or upset me. They kept screaming at random trying to scare me. I wanted to make it look like it didn't bother me so I didn't do anything. I thought about putting the iPod away and even squeezed it a little tighter, but I didn't want to show fear.
I guess I should have.

The officer did say they would check the videotape from the train and from the station. Whether the cameras were actually working is a different story.
It's so frustrating sometimes to ride public transit in Baltimore. The DC metro is so different. I was down there on Sunday night and felt completely safe, even at 10 something at night. Yet I don't feel safe at all on the Baltimore subway in broad daylight

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:28 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore Metro

June 1, 2009

Dogs not barking at MTA

There's something very strange going on at the Maryland Transit Administration: Nothing.

That's nothing as in no news. And there's no place where the axiom that no news is good news applies as much as at a public transit agency.

It's been about a month since I've received an email from a disgruntled MARC rider. If anybody's been getting beat up on city buses, it's certainly been kept quiet. When I've ridden the light rail, the ticket machines have been working. The Metro subway just  keeps rolling along with its usual boring efficiency. The MTA personnel I've dealt with have been courteous and professional.

What's going on here anyway? Is this turning into the Stepford Transit System? Whatever happened to the font of horror stories where Sun reporters have slaked their news thirst at for years? Is this a fluke or could it be that this agency isn't as screwed up as it used to be?

Continue reading "Dogs not barking at MTA" »

May 14, 2009

Getting There: The Preakness

The city Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration have weighed in with information on Preakness road closings and transit services.
The elimination of the service provided in the past from Mondawmin Mall and Poly/Western is the result of the same federal ruling that deep-sixed shuttle service to Orioles and Ravens games. The MTA is blameless in this case.


Metro: The Maryland Transit Administration will offer shuttle service between the West Rogers Avenue Metro station and Pimlico.

Light rail: The MTA will offer shuttle service between the West Cold Spring Lane light rail station and Pimlico.

Bus: The MTA will run additional buses as needed on Routes No. 27, 44, 91 and 54 serving Pimlico.

Park and ride: Under new federal rules, the MTA will not offer shuttle service between park-and-ride lots at Mondawmin and Poly/Western and Pimlico. Those who park at Mondawmin can take the Metro to Rogers Avenue and take the shuttle. Those who park at Poly/Western can walk to the Cold Spring light rail station and catch the shuttle.


The Baltimore Department of Transportation issued the following list of street closings and restrictions:

The following streets will be closed to through traffic:

• Saturday, May 16, 2009 – 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Southbound Jones Falls Expressway exit ramp to eastbound Northern
Parkway (Motorists will be redirected to the Cold Spring Lane exits)

• Cylburn Avenue from Northern Parkway to Greenspring Avenue

• Saturday, May 16, 2009 – 5:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Southbound Jones Falls Expressway exit ramp to westbound Northern
Parkway (Motorists will be redirected to the Cold Spring Lane exits)

• Westbound Northern Parkway will be closed from Falls Road to
Greenspring Avenue

The following special traffic modifications will be in effect:

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 10:00 p.m. until Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 8:00
Rogers Avenue – One-way westbound from Winner Avenue to Park Heights
Winner Avenue – One-way northbound from Hayward Avenue to Rogers Ave

Manhattan Avenue – One-way eastbound from Winner Avenue to Pimlico Road

Whitney Avenue – One-way westbound from Pimlico Road to Key Avenue

Sulgrave Avenue – One-way westbound from Stuart Avenue to Highgate Avenue

Rockwood Avenue – One-way eastbound from Key Avenue to Berkeley Avenue

Simmonds Avenue – One-way southbound from Rockwood Avenue to Manhattan Avenue

Woodcrest Avenue – One-way northbound from Northern Parkway to Rockwood

Merville Avenue – One-way southbound from Glen Avenue to Northern Parkway

Berkeley Avenue – One-way northbound from Whitney Avenue to Glen Avenue

Stuart Avenue – One-way northbound from Northern Parkway to Sulgrave

Rusk Avenue – One-way southbound from Whitney Avenue to Northern Parkway

Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 10:00 p.m. until Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 9:00

Rogers Avenue – Will be closed to vehicular traffic from Winner Avenue to
Northern Parkway

Saturday, May 16, 2009 from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Hayward Avenue – One-way eastbound from Park Heights Avenue to Winner

Saturday, May 16, 2009 from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Pimlico Road – One-way northbound from Northern Parkway to Ken Oak Road

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:19 PM | | Comments (2)

May 7, 2009

Weekend downtown traffic snarls predicted

This just in from the Downtown Partnership. It looks like a good weekend to use Light Rail or the Metro to get downtown.


 CONGESTION ALERT: Large events at First Mariner Arena and Camden Yards this Friday and Saturda

 Concurrent events at the First Mariner Arena and Camden Yards are expected to cause congestion Downtown on the evening of Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9. Acquire the Fire, a national tour for Christian youth, is expected to draw over 15,000 attendees to the First Mariner Arena on Friday night at 7 pm and Saturday at 9 am. There are also Orioles vs. Yankees games at Camden Yards on both Friday and Saturday evening starting at 7:05 pm.

 Expect heavy traffic Downtown Friday evening as well as throughout the day on Saturday. If you are planning on attending Acquire on Fire or the Orioles game, we highly encourage taking public transportation.

To avoid the congestion Downtown, please visit our alternative routes webpage at for suggestions to Get Around Downtown.

When planning out your route, it should be noted that Lombard Street has been reopened to traffic. As always, visit for updates and to sign up for congestion alerts.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore Metro, Light rail, MTA bus system, On the roads

May 4, 2009

Lexington Market Metro station woes drag on

Mitchell Walk, who works for Constellation Global Commodities Group, has had enough of long walks in the dark in a rather uninviting part of town.

He writes:

Since I've had absolutely zero luck in getting an answer from MTA, I hope you can help me out. I travel the Metro daily for my commute, which two nights a week has me taking the train back to Owings Mills from graduate school classes after 10:00 pm. Those nights I walk to the Lexington Market station from the south, meaning that I have to walk right past the long under construction "station enhancement" project blocking the south entrance to the station. This creates an extra block of walking in what is not exactly the best neighborhood in the city, and I'm anxious for the entrance to reopen.

Since little progress is ever visible, I've sent numerous emails to the MTA trying to get an idea of when the work is (or more likely, was) scheduled to be completed. Per usual for my questions to the MTA, I've received no response and was hoping that you could track down an answer for us Metro riders. Thanks!

Mitch is apparently going to have to run the gauntlet a few more months.

Continue reading "Lexington Market Metro station woes drag on" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore Metro
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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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