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" »

June 23, 2011

Why can't light rail handle big night events?

Every time there's a major night event downtown, it seems the Maryland Transit Administration and civic leaders urge people to use rail transit to get there and get home.

Maybe that's working on the Metro. Seldom does Getting There hear complaints from that system. But the light rail system is a different story. Any time there's a big night event -- such as Wednesday's U2 concert at M&T Bank Stadium -- and we start getting emails like this from Sarah LW:

A tip - MTA has once again dropped the ball.  I'm standing on the light
rail northbound platform outside of M&T Bank stadium, still waiting to
board a train, with hundreds of other concertgoers.  There was one
northbound train shortly after 11:00 pm, and one right before midnight.
 Southbound service fared slightly better, though there are still people
waiting there as well.

Continue reading "Why can't light rail handle big night events?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Light rail

May 27, 2011

Light rail and pedestrians: Why not a crosswalk?

A light rail train was heading north on Howard Street in downtown Baltimore when it made a stop on the right side between Lexington and Saratoga. Dozens of passengers disembarked, and the vast majority of them crossed over the street in the middle of the block, just behind the train.

This may not be strictly legal but it is human nature. No amount of legislating or fulminating or lecturing will stop it. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, young or old -- it seems we all want to get from Point A to Point B by taking a straight line.

My question for the city Department of Transportation is this: Given that this is how pedestrians react to this configuration of transit and street, why not create a crosswalk at the point where they are going to cross anyway? Even when pedestrians are in the wrong, drivers are obligated to avoid hitting them anyway, so why not provide that extra measure of protection to people on foot?

Here's a modest suggestion: Have one of those sharp traffic engineers with the department follow the light rail through town and chart where the passengers are crossing. Then design measures to protect them. It's not as if Howard Street was intended to be a fast-moving street for drivers.

Yes, the city could wait for a fatality. Or, at the risk of sounding unoriginal, it could "do it now."


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:33 PM | | Comments (7)

May 4, 2011

Did MTA update its MARC phone line?

Jason Ewell, manager of program services at the National Federation of the Blind, has discovered a glitch in the Maryland Transit Administration's phone service listings for MARC trains. It appears the MTA might not have updated its information when it changed its schedule on the Penn Line earlier this year.

Here's Ewell's account:

Just letting you know that nearly two months after the change in the MARC train schedule, the MTA telephone system has still not been updated. The light rail schedule also does not work properly and hasn't for many months. Is there any way you could ask MTA officials why they can't make these simple fixes to their system? I have complained several times to the MTA call center employees, but of course all they can do is pass the complaints along.


Continue reading "Did MTA update its MARC phone line?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail, MARC train, MTA

April 24, 2011

Schaefer 'final tour' could delay light rail, buses

It was Gov. William Donald Schaefer who brought the light rail system to Baltimore, so perhaps he can be forgiven if he delays it a bit Monday.

The Maryland Transit  Administration says that the planned "final tour" for Schaefer before he lies in state at City Hall starting Monday evening could cause some temporary delays in light rail service, as well as on local and commuter buses, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The tour will take Schaefer's body from his childhood home in West Baltimore to many sites associated with his career -- including Lexington Market, Camden yards, the Hippodrome, Harborplace, Fells Point and Little Italy.

The MTA said street closures along the route could cause delays.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

January 31, 2011

Light rail resumes normal operations

The Maryland Transit Administration has resumed normal operations on its light rail service after an incident in which an SUV slid off the Jones Falls Expressway and landed near the tracks in the vicinity of Northern Parkway.

MTA spokesman David Clark landed on its roof near the tracks between the Cold Spring Lane and Mount Washington stations just south of Northern Parkway. He said no trains were damaged by the crash, though service was briefly interrupted so police could complete rescue operations. For a time, the trains operated on a single track at reduced speeds around the crash site.

Clark said he had no information  on the condition of any occupants of the SUV. H said the crash was being handled by the Baltimore Police Department rather than the MTA police.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

Light rail service to Hunt Valley briefly interrupted

The Maryland Transit Administration is working to get its light rail system back on schedule after an open circuit-breaker stopped service to the northern end of the line.

 MTA spokesman Terry Owens said the problem started about 9:30 a.m. when the circuit-breaker problem was detected at the Pepper Road substation. He said a crew was dispatched and fixed the circuit breaker at 9:58 a.m. During that time, service from Pepper Road north to to Hunt Valley was interrupted, Owens said.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

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 curbs bus services; light rail delayed

The Maryland Transit Administration has suspended local bus service and expects it to resume at 5 a.m. Thursday. It has canceled all commuter bus services provided by contractors Thursday.

The agency said service on the light rail line is running 30 minutes late and is not stopping at the Woodberry station. It said the Metro has been running on schedule.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:41 PM | | Comments (1)

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 14, 2011

Light rail now running to Hunt Valley

Light rail service to Hunt Valley has been restored and trains are now running north of Timonium for the first time since Tuesday.

Maryland Transit Administration spokesman David Clark said full service on the light rail line resumed at 1:15 p.m. after testing showed the repairs on the overhead power lines and signal system at the Warren Road crossing had been successful.

Service was interrupted there early Tuesday morning when a salt truck that had not lowered its bed hit the catenary wire, bringing it down and damaging the signaling system.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

Light rail section could reopen soon

The Maryland Transit Administration has powered up the overhead electric lines that were damaged early Tuesday and if test show it works, service could be restored to the northern end of the line before this afternoon's rush hour.

MTA spokesman David Clark said the agency will soon run a test train through the Warren Road crossing, where a salt truck that had not lowered its bed brought down catenary wires and damaged the signaling system. If the systems function properly, light rail service to Hunt Valley could be restored this afternoon, he said.

Since Tuesday, trains have been stopping at Timonium and a bus bridge has carried passengers to the station north of there.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:34 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Light rail

January 12, 2011

Light rail down at line's north end after truck mishap

Light rail service is expected to be curtailed north of Timonium through Thursday's morning rush hour after a truck driver's error tore down the wires that power the trains.

An MTA spokesman said a bus bridge is maintaining service to Hunt Valley as crews work to repair the damage caused when a salt truck driver under contract to Baltimore County went through the Warren Road crossing without lowering the bed on the truck. According to the Baltimore County police, the call came in at 1:09 a.m., shortly after the service was shut down for the night. 

"The truck really ripped things up," said the  MTA's David Clark. He said the MTA had a bus bridge in place in time for Wednesday's morning commute.

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police Department identified the driver as Arnold Criss, 29, of Aberdeen. She said no charged have been filed.

Clark said he doesn't know whether the MTA would seek to recover damages from the contractor. "Right now they''re just trying to get it fixed,"  he  said.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail

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.


Continue reading "Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill" »

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

November 19, 2010

Light rail station's ticket machines broken

This just in from the MTA:

Light Rail Customers are advised that the Ticket Vending Machines at Falls Road Light Rail will be out of order from November 19 until the evening of Monday, November 22. We recommend that our riders purchase and board at an alternate location. Otherwise, you may board at Falls Road and then purchase ticket at the next stop. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This is nonsense and the MTA ought to know better. Fare inspectors should be instructed that if they encounter a passenger wiithout a  ticket, to ask where the rider boarded. If the rider says Falls Road, the MTA should concede the free ride. No passenger who boarded in good faith  should be expected to get off at the next stop, purchase a ticket while the train leaves, and wait for the next train.

It's the MTA that's responsible for the condition of the machines -- not the riders.







Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:46 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Light rail

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)

November 5, 2010

Election provides mixed news for transit projects

This week's election provided mixed news for supporters of expansion of Maryland's transit system -- positive at the local level but foreboding on the national scene.

The big local story was Gov. Martin O'Malley defeat of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich  Jr. in a contest that pitted two very different views of public transit.  Ehrlich prmoised to scuttle Baltimore's Red Line and the Washington suburban Purple Line as light rail projects if elected. His stance in favor of a bus alternative was a turn-off to influential players in Montgomery and Prince Georges' counties -- as reflected in the Greater Washington Board of Trade's endorsement of O'Malley. His numbers in the Washington suburbs would have been anemic anyway, but his stance on the Purple Line deepened his problems. 

Ehrlich's Red Line position might have won him a few stray votes in Canton, but there are no signs it helped him much in the Baltimore area.


Continue reading "Election provides mixed news for transit projects" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)

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" »

CharmCard shows lack of charm on light rail

The Maryland Transit Administration's new CharmCard represents a significant advance for the agency, but light rail rider Jerry McCann of Lutherville hasn't found it all to be smooth riding. From what I've seen from my few rides on the light rail since the card's introduction, McCann makes some valid points -- especially about the problems in buying a round-trip ticket.

I thought you might want to hear from an early Charm Card adopter about how it works.  It's OK but less than charming.

The actual technology of the card itself seems to work well but there are some important information gaps in the literature that comes with the card and on the website about how to use it on the Light Rail.  It's important to keep in mind that Light Rail users have been trained to be ready to have their paper tickets and passes periodically inspected by uniformed "Fare Inspectors".  Within this context its important that MTA make sure Charm Card users know that they no longer need a paper ticket or pass on the Light Rail.  Fare Inspectors now carry a Charm Card scanner box that verifies that a rider has used the card to pay an appropriate fare.

Continue reading "CharmCard shows lack of charm on light rail" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:13 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail

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)

September 23, 2010

Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support

State Comptroller Peter Franchot reaffirmed his support for construction of two light rail lines as he accused a Washington newspaper of distorting his position after he questioned the costs of a contract for engineering on the projects.

Franchot released a statement Thuesday in which he said he felt compelled to respond to a Washington Examiner that he called a "gross misrepresentation of my longtime position" on the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. The comptroller said he fully supports construction of the 16-mile light rail lline from New Carrollton to Bethesda, as well as the east-west Red Line in Baltimore.

The Examiner, in an stricle that bore  the online headline "Franchot swings at Purple Line," interpreted the comptroller's remarks as a criticism of the cost of the projects themselves.

Continue reading "Franchot blasts report, reaffirms transit support" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:26 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For policy wonks only, Light rail, MTA, Red Line

September 22, 2010

MTA electronic fare system shows new glitch

Today is Day No. 2 of the Maryland Transit Administration's full-fledge venture into the brave new world of electronic fare collection -- and as far as this occasional rider is concerned the results have been mixed.

One day after my SmartTrip card  -- the Washington Metro card that's now supposed  to be interchangeable with Baltimore' CharmCard -- was rejected at the Lexington Market Metro Station, it failed to work  again today at the North Linthicum light rail station.

When I touched the card to the screen on the ticket vending machine, up came the same old light rail ticket menu giving the option of  cash or credit card. It did not seem to want to debit a round-trip fare.

After puzzling it over a bit, I heard a train come chugging into the station. I would  have made a credit card purchase, but that would have caused me too miss the train and be late for an appointment. (The immutable law  of light rail seems to be that the train always comes into the station just as you're fumbling with the ticket machine.)

I must admit that rather than be late for an event, I jumped on the train without having my payment accepted --  figuring that if a fare inspector came by I would explain the failure of the system to read my SmartTrip card. Perhaps fortunately, no  inspector came by before I got off at Camden Yards.

Continue reading "MTA electronic fare system shows new glitch" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:35 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Light rail

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 20, 2010

How Charm Card will work on light rail

The Maryland Transit Administration will trot out all the details of its new CharmCard, an electronic fare payment system, at a news conference Tuesday morning. But MTA spokesman gave Getting There readers a preview by explaining how it will work on the light rail system.

According to Owens, it will be a paper-less system for card users. You get to the fare machine, flash your card for the electronic reader, it debits your fare and you board the train. Fare inspectors will be equipped with electronic devices that can tell whether you have paid by scanning your CharmCard (or SmartTrip card, for those who elect to use the version issued by the Washington Metro system). Just show your card, instead of your ticket, to the inspector.

Owens  also said MTA buses, the  Metro and light rail will start accepting SmartTrip  cards Tuesday -- the same day the MTA's  long-awaited CharmCards go on sale.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:50 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail

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

MTA defends light rail handling of Ravens crowds

In a previous posting, readers questioned why the MTA's light rail system takes so long to move crowds out of Camden Yards after Ravens games. We put that question to MTA spokesman Terry Owens, who provided the following reply:

MTA records show no problems with service August 28th. Our passengers should know that extra measures are taken to handle the 8-10,000 customers who use light rail for Ravens games.  Depending on the availability of cars we try to make every train a three car train, and add fill in trains when possible.

Despite the limits imposed by the number of available tracks and cars, light rail platforms are usually clear in less than an hour following Ravens games. 
Large crowds can affect schedules. That?s because it takes longer to fill the train and off load passengers when large crowds are involved. Our goal is always to move passengers as quickly and safely as possible.  Like everyone we look forward to a great season with the Ravens.

What we have here is a clear disconnect of expectations. Riders look at a 45-minute delay in getting a train after a game and think "it took forever to get a train." The MTA sees the platforms cleared within an hour and pats itself oon the back for doing a good job.

Continue reading "MTA defends light rail handling of Ravens crowds" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:31 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

September 15, 2010

Orioles losing stretch is heavy burden for light rail

Alexander Pyles, a student in former Sun editor Sandy Banisky's class at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism in College Park. has written a perceptive article about how the Orioles' 13-year slide into perennial loser status has affected the Maryland Transit  Administration's light rail system.

The article, part of a 12-part project on the effects the Orioles' decline has had on Baltimore, reports that the system has fallen well short of expectations as the crowds that flooded Camden Yards in its early years have waned. It's a very readable series --  and well worth a couple of clicks.

The article does leave one key question unanswered: Is it asking too much of manager Buck Showalter to expect him to turn around the light rail system as well as the team?


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

Why can't light rail handle Ravens crowds?

After nearly three weeks of total detachment from Maryland transportation issues, I returned from a European vacation today to be greeted by an Aug. 30 email from readers Sean Jester and Stuart Grey raising some very good questions about the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system. Here's what Jester and Grey had to say:

I try to use the MTA to get downtown whenever possible. I've purchased the MTA season pass for all Ravens home games and overall I enjoy the freedom from having to drive downtown for sporting events and paying to park. I support the MTA in building the red line and hope that someday the LR and metro subway will be expanded to give Baltimore the comprehensive mass transit system it deserves.

But this last Saturday during the Ravens game two overall minor setbacks just reinforced my belief that the MTA still cannot provide efficient transportation to and from Ravens games.


Continue reading "Why can't light rail handle Ravens crowds?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:46 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail

August 16, 2010

MTA touts itself as the way to the state fair

Before a major public event in the Baltimore area, it's typical of the Maryland Transit Administration to send out a news release touting its services as the way to get there.

So it is with the Maryland State Fair, which begins Aug. 27 and runs through Sept. 6. The MTA just put out the word that light rail is the way to go to the event to Timonium Fairgrounds. (It also mentions the No. 8 and No. 9 buses, though light rail will certainly move a lot more people.)

The obligatory canned quote from the release either contains news or a fairly ridiculous blunder, since it's attributed to MTA chief Ralign T. Wells.

MTA offers a cool, comfortable way to focus on the fair and your family instead of dealing with traffic and parking.  For just $1.60, the MTA Day Pass will get you there relaxed and ready to enjoy good food, good times and great entertainment.

So the MTA has cut the cost of a day pass from $3.50 to the $1.60 cost of a one-way fare? Talk about burying the lead!  (Lower in the release, it mentions the cost of a day pass as $3.50, so I'm betting that's  the operative policy.)

Continue reading "MTA touts itself as the way to the state fair" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail, MTA, MTA bus system

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)

August 10, 2010

O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax

It was no accident that Gov. Martin O’Malley wore a purple tie to his campaign event in Silver Spring this morning.

The governor met with about two dozen small business owners and other voters at the Tastee Diner in this Montgomery County community to discuss his approach to transit issues -- and to underscore his support for a light rail project known as the Purple Line and the opposition of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to it.

While O’Malley launched no new verbal missiles at his prospective Republican opponent, he used the Purple Line issue to underscore a stark policy difference between the two.

Continue reading "O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:31 PM | | Comments (1)

July 22, 2010

Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance

Ada Orie of Towson recently contacted this after having difficulty getting her complaints dealt with. Our public airing of her problems helped bring out action from the MTA, including a  call from Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who apparently did a good enough job of responding to her concerns that she sent this email:

I was born, raised and have lived in Maryland all my life. I have been a MTA customer for about 15 years. I want to talk to you about MTA service and second chances. I have traveled on the MTA bus, light rail, MARC train and metro subway. I will say although the service has not been perfect in the last 15 years, I will say I always got to my destination safely and I am appreciative the fares have stayed the same for the last few years despite the economic downturn. As we are ten years into a new millennium, we have a responsibility to usher in positive change. Let us do it by opening up the lines of communication between the MTA and its customers.


Continue reading "Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:40 PM | | Comments (1)

Where the light rail speakers are (and aren't)

MTA spokesman Terry Owens says the  agency plans to improve the way it communicates with its light rail customers by installing a new public  address and electronic signs system at its stations. He added that the contract has been put out for  bid and  that five companies are competing. He said replacement of that system  is expected  to take as long as two years.

That raised the question of where the MTA has working speakers and where it does not. After a request from The Sun, Owens provided a list:I checked into the stations with PA’s. Here is the list.

Continue reading "Where the light rail speakers are (and aren't)" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Light rail

Light rail riders: Satisfied with MTA answers?

Last Saturday, on the busy day in the middle of Artscape weekend, several light rail riders reported that they stood at various station for periods of 45 minutes to an hour without seeing a train headed downtown and without being informed by the Maryland Transit Administration of problems on the line.

To which Maryland  Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens insisted the agency did use its P.A. system, such as it is, to inform light rail riders of those problems. Today, after receiving requests for details of how the MTA attempted to communicate Saturday,  Owens sent this statement:

As for last Saturday, I can tell you that we moved over 14,000 people on light rail and another 8,000 people Sunday.  On a daily basis more than 28,000 people use the service. We move 350,000 people every weekday on all our modes. We’re one of the largest transit agencies in the country. Are we perfect? No we are not. Do we strive daily to improve the service? Yes we do. We had some service disruptions Saturday and we responded. How do we plan to do a better job of informing customers when there is a problem on Light Rail?  We are investing in a new PA system for Light Rail and our Metro Subway operation. In the meantime we are continuing to make improvements internally that will result in improved service on the street. 

Light rail users, are you satisfied with that answer? Or should I keep pressing the MTA for details of what went wrong?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:07 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail

July 20, 2010

MTA insists it made P.A. announcements

The Maryland Transit Administration is insisting it used its public announcement systems at most of its light rail stations to let riders know of serious disruptions along the line Saturday while Artscape and other well-attended events were taking place downtown.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said the MTA has a P.S. system that covers 25 of its 33 light rail stations, including North Linthicum. He said the system was used to spread the word of the serious disruptions Saturday, which he said were caused by an unverified report of a body on the tracks, followed by a train's collision with a tree branch that became wedged in the undercarriage.

Owens' account appear to contradict those of a rider  who reported waiting at the North Linthicum for more than an hour Saturday evening without seeing a northbound train. Other riders reported long waits at Linthicum, Mount Washington and Woodberry without hearing from the MTA. Getting There is checking with these riders to see whether they heard anything from the P.A. systems.

The MTA spokesman continues to insist  that the MTA did  a commendable job Saturday in coping with multiple disruptions and getting the word out to riders. "We did an awful lot right on Saturday,"" he said.

In the end it doesn't matter how I see it or Owens sees it. It's how  the customers see it.  And the feedback I've received has not been positiive.

Owens said the MTA is planning to upgrade its P.A. system and to extend it to all of its light rail stations.  He said the contract is in the bidding process. That would be a big improvement to the system --  if it's used.

Meanwhile, if you were at a light rail station Saturday and did hear a P.A. announcement about the troubles, please drop us  an email.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:25 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail

July 19, 2010

Here's what went wrong on light rail

If you were one of the hundreds of light rail riders left waiting at stations this weekend, there's a good chance you still don't know the reasons because the Maryland Transit Administration just doesn't know how to communicate with its customers.

Don't feel too bad. The MTA doesn't even communicate internally. It took MTA spokesman Terry Owens most of the  day to ferret out basic information such as where a train broke down. Until the operations people start informing the public affairs people about problems before the media inquiries come in, the MTA is going to continue to be a dysfuctional organization.

Anyway, here's what went down Saturday, according to Owens:

First, MTA police received a report about 2:30 p.m. of a body lying across the  tracks near Lutherville. The report ultimately could not be verified, but it prompted a slowdown of the trains to 20 mph, Owens said, as officers walked the track to check out the report. In view of the fatal accident that occurred on the light rail tracks last year, the sensitivity is understandable.

Then, just before 5 p.m., a train hit a branch that was lying across the tracks north of the Falls Road  station. The branch became jammed in the  train's undercarriage and had to be extracted. Meanwhile another train had to be diverted to pick up the passengers --  a maneuver that took 45 minutes or so. Meanwhile, the system had to go to single-tracking around the stalled train. Then the MTA had to inspect the track and make sure it was safe.  That takes time.

When something like that goes wrong, it can have a cascading effect on  the entire system. That's understood.

What isn't clear is why it would still be affecting traffic in Linthicum and North Linthicum between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., where rides reported that no northbound trains came by between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. According to Owens, the MTA sent out email alerts, which is a great way to reach its regular commuters but a lousy way to contact the occasional riders who use the system on weekends. At least some of the riders missed a Government Mule concert as a result.



Continue reading "Here's what went wrong on light rail" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail

A modest idea for MTA on light rail

According to the MTA, a light rail train struck a branch that had fallen on the tracks near the Falls Road station Saturday about 5 p.m. The branch got stuck in the undercarriage of the train. It was terrible timing, coming on Artscape weekend with the Orioles in town, but it was one of those things that just happens now and then with a public transit system.

But why would such a problem still  be rippling through the system two hours later, when two readers who were at the Linthicum and North Linthicum stations reported going an hour without seeing a northbound train -- hearing nothing from the MTA as they were trying to get to a concert downtown?

One of the most serious deficiencies of the light rail system is that it doesn't have a working P.A. system to inform riders at all stations of problems on the line. Terry Owens, and MTA spokesman, said plans to install such a system are in the  works. He said the contract for  the work -- which would also include LED signs -- has been put out for bid and that the system should be up and running within two years.

Big whoop.

Continue reading "A modest idea for MTA on light rail" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:50 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Light rail

Light rail flunks on Artscape weekend

Artscape should be a showcase for the Maryland Transit Administration. It's an event that draws 350,000 people to a site that is served by the Metro, light rail and several bus lines. Government officials routinely urge people to use public transit to get there. It's an opportunity to expose people who don't usually use transit to the benefits.

So why did MTA light rail service bomb so badly during a weekend when it should have been at its best? According to spokesman Terry Owens, some events occurred that were outside the MTA's control. There was a report of an intruder on the tracks and a tree branch down on the line. But hundreds of people were left cooling their heels at stations without explanation. Here's some of their stories. The first comes from a gentleman whose name I will add if and when I get permission:


I've seen your recent articles about the troubles of the MARC train and the folly of trying to catch the new bus outside Penn station on Friday before Artscape started. The consistent inability of these government agencies to anticipate and put 2 and 2 together is a source of ongoing frustration. 

Continue reading "Light rail flunks on Artscape weekend" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:17 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Light rail

Did light rail take a dive during Artscape?

Some readers have written me to complain about long waits for light rail trains during Artscape, along with poor conditions and communications. If you used the light rail to get to and from the festival and had an experience you want to share, please drop me a line -- either by posting here or writing me at
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:57 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Light rail

July 9, 2010

Single-tracking on Purple Line? Go figure

Where the proposed Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda is concerned, Getting There can be a detached observer. We're all about One Maryland, and we wish the Washington suburbs well iin their transit aspirations, but it's not our backyard.

Nevertheless it caught our eyes when we read on that  a Montgomery County councilman, Roger Berliner, is actually pushing consideration of a single-tracking scheme on the proposed light rail line to save a few trees and appease critics of the project.

One has to wonder whether Berliner has any idea of the operational nightmares single-tracking brings. Certainly Baltimore knows all about the joys of single-tracking, which plagued our existing light rail system for the first 15 years of its existence.  Earth to Berliner: Any single-tracked system will bring delays, shutdowns and inefficiency from the get-go and will eventually require a shutdown of that section of the system to correct the error at a cost of hundreds of millions more than it would to do it right the first time. That's what happened in Baltimore, and that's what would happen in Montgomery County.

Hey, if Berliner wants to oppose the Purple Line outright, that's a defensible choice. But building it with single-tracking where it can be avoided is a waste of money that comes from all Maryland taxpayers. If this goofy idea goes through, the Maryland Transit Administration might as well put the entire project on the back burner and turn its attention to Baltimore's transit needs.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Light rail, MTA

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 7, 2010

Rider wonders: Is light rail the next MARC?

Elizabeth Muscedere,a 12-year light rail rider from Towson, had an experience this week that reminded her of the Maryland Transit Administration's recent woes on MARC. It seems that every time there's a "bus bridge" in place -- as there is this week between Cultural Center and Camden Yards--  problems ensue. Shouldn't the MTA have its quality assurance supervisors swarming the light rail stops when a bus bridge is in place, monitoring performance and answering questions? Especially on a 100+ day?

Here's Muscedere's story:

Now the Light Rail service is trying to imitate the miserable MARC train experience for its riders.  Yesterday on the hottest day of the year during evening rush hour, riders had to wait more than 40 minutes for a northbound train from the Cultural Center Stop.  Normally, several trains would arrive during this time but for unknown reasons a train did not arrive until almost 5:30 for passengers waiting since at least 4:50.  In the afternoon there is no shade at this stop.

Continue reading "Rider wonders: Is light rail the next MARC?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:43 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Light rail

July 6, 2010

Light rail bus shuttle gets panned

The Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system is operating this week without its central section because of work on the train infrastructure and road surface along Howard Street. That has required the closing of the line between the Camden yards and Cultural Center stations.

The MTA deserves credit for scheduling the work, which is expected to last through this weekend, during a heavy vacation week while the Orioles are on a long road trip.  But a reader named Youssef, who preferred that we  not use his llst name, had trouble with the bus shuttle tthe MTA offered as a substitute.

I had a wonderful experience this morning that I think you, the public, and MTA should know about.  I normally take Metro to Lexington Market and transfer to Light Rail northbound to Hunt Valley.  I arrived at the Light Rail station to find a sign that directed me to the corner of Howard and Saratoga to wait for the northbound shuttle.  Other passengers were waiting there as well.

Continue reading "Light rail bus shuttle gets panned" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:38 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail

July 1, 2010

City to close Howard-Lexington intersection

The Baltimore Department of Transportation will close the downtown intersection of Howard and Lexington streets for a week for work on the roads and light rail line.

The intersection will close from 6 a.m. July 5 (Monday) until 6 a.m. July 12 -- the same period that the light rail will not be running between Camden Yards and  the Cultural Center stops for work on the power lines, an obsolete switch and the Lexington market station.

The closings will also affect Lexington Street between Eutaw Street and Park Avenue and nothbound Howard Street between Fayette and Mulberry streets.

Detours will be in place, but the city is warning motorists to expect delays.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail, On the roads

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

Central section of light rail to close a week

The Maryland Transit Administration will suspend operations on the central section of the light rail line next week for construction along Howard Street.

The MTA said it will not operate trains between the Camden Yards and Cultural Center stations from July 5 to July 11 but will provide shuttle buses to make connections. The agency said the buses will operate during regular light rail hours between and that every third trip will be extended to Penn Station. The shuttle will make stop at all stations except Pratt Street/Convention Center. The MTA recommended that riders use the Camden Yards stop next week.

All cross streets along Howard are expected to remain open.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

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

Light rail fails rider after Orioles game

Every once and a while I get an email about a breakdown in light rail service after an Orioles game. Since serving baseball fans was one of the original justifications for building the system, that strikes me as a serious lapse. Here's one rider's story, as recounted by Jay Sweren of Pikesville.

And here I thought I was the only one who noticed just how clueless Baltimore’s MTA was. I remember thinking when the Light Rail opened that it was a great way to travel to and from Oriole Park. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, that was one of the reasons to make OPACY a major stop and transfer point. Somehow, though, the geniuses at MTA never seemed to get the message. This past Friday I wanted to join my son and grandsons, who were driving in from Ellicott City for the game and invited me to meet them. With a crowd of 40,000 expected I figured light rail was a far better idea than fighting all that traffic and that Light Rail was the perfect solution.

Unfortunately, each time over the years I have tried that logical solution I end up forgetting the prior experiences and then trying it again. Not any more.

Continue reading "Light rail fails rider after Orioles game" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:08 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Light rail

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 16, 2010

For a second view of MTA event, grab a Brew

It never hurts to have a second view of a public event, and Fern Shen of Baltimore Brew provides another account of MTA Administrator Ralign Wells' appearance before the Transit Riders Action Council earlier this week.

For the most part, Shen's account tracks the one on Getting There. It needs to be pointed out that while Shen put a lot of emphasis on the Red Line controversy, it only came up in the last 15 minutes of a 2-hour presentation, and the discussion was for the most part nonconfrontational.

The members of TRAC are a politically savvy bunch, and they  know Wells was not in a position to back down on the Red Line. The current Red Line light rail plan, after all, represents a decision made by his ultimate boss -- Gov. Martin O'Malley -- as well as the institutional opinion of his agency. To their credit, TRAC members spent most of the time concentrating on matters they could influence. Then they got their requisite licks in on the Red Line.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)

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)

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)

May 27, 2010

Security drill at train stations finished

A surprise security drill at Maryland train stations, which raised curiosity among many morning rail commuters, is over now and has been pronounced a success.

Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the Maryland Transit Administration Police, said the exercise at multiple Maryland MARC stations was part of a  a larger operation including law enforcement agencies along the Eastern Seaboard.

The drill,  which was not announced in advance, lasted from about 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., Gavrilis  said. It included a variety of agencies, including federal air marshals, the Transportation Security Administration, the MTA police, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, the Baltimore Police Department and other local police agencies. The event was not  announced by the MTA until after it was over.


Continue reading "Security drill at train stations finished" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:19 AM | | Comments (1)

Camden Yards is scene of security exercise

If you're in the Camden Yards area this morning, you might notice an unusual amount of police activity. Don't worry. According to the Maryland Transit Administration, it's part of a security exercise. Here's the MTA's news release:


Local exercise will target MARC Train stations on the Penn, Camden, and Brunswick Lines.

(BALTIMORE, MD) May 27, 2010 - The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) police will take part in a multi-jurisdictional police exercise to hone coordinated security monitoring skills on Thursday, May 27, 2010 as part of a major effort to enhance rail safety along the East Coast.

Continue reading "Camden Yards is scene of security exercise" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service, Light rail, MARC train, MTA bus system

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)

April 6, 2010

Insurance minimum bill delayed at brink of passage

A bill that would raise the minimum level of liability coverage for owners of vehicles in Maryland reached the verge of approval Tuesday before it became enmeshed in a loosely related struggle -- giving opponents hope they could scuttle the measure.

The bill would raise the minimum a vehicle owner must carry from the current $20,000 per person and $40,000 per crash to $30,000 and $60,000 respectively.

The bill’s passage could raise insurance premiums for as many as 200,000 Marylanders who carry the minimum level of coverage. Opponents, led by insurance companies but backed by advocates for the poor, warned that the impact would fall hardest on low-income workers who can barely afford coverage as it is.

But supporters of the bills, including plaintiff’s lawyers and clients who had been limited in how much that could collected after crashes in which another person was at fault, pointed out that the minimums had not been raised since the early 1970s.

Continue reading "Insurance minimum bill delayed at brink of passage" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

April 5, 2010

Light rail service to Hunt Valley restored

Light rail service to Hunt Valley is up and running today after being shut down for two weeks after a tractor-trailer collided with a train at Gilroy Road, damaging the tracks and overhead power lines.

Since the March 23 crash, which seriously injured the train's operator, trains had not served the stations north of Timonium. The Maryland Transit Administration operated a bus shuttle between Timonium and Hunt Valley.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

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 23, 2010

Operator injured in light rail crash (updated)

A Maryland Transit Administration operator was seriously injured this morning as a light rail train collided with a tractor-trailer near Hunt Valley, disrupting service on the northern end of the line.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the light rail train was heading south through a winding stretch in an industrial area when it collided with the truck at the crossing at Gilroy Road. Greene said a third vehicle, a Honda, also became involved in the crash.

According to Greene, there were seven passengers and three fare inspectors aboard the train. She said some of them were transported to Greater Baltimore Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries, while the operator was taken to Maryland Shock-Trauma Center with serious injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. She said the MTA is withholding the operator's identity until her family can be notified.

Continue reading "Operator injured in light rail crash (updated)" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

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.


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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)

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 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 11, 2009

Montgomery Council opens door for transit study

The Montgomery County Council, led by Chairman Phil Andrews, might just have opened a door they would have preferred to keep closed.

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit points out that the solution Andrews suggested and the Council endorsed for relieving congestion in the Interstate 270 corridor -- the addition of two reversible express lanes between Shady Grove and Frederick -- is not  one of the alternatives included in the State Highway Administration's I-270 Corridor Study.

To move in the direction the Council suggests would require a new study of the plan's costs and feasibilty, Ross notes. So if transportation officials decide to reopen the study to examine one plan, Ross asks, why not open it up to other alternatives -- including ACT's suggestion of an all-transit option for relieving the corridor's stress?

It seems to me that Ross has a point. A lot has happened since transit was last  looked  at, including massive cost increases for some of the alternatives that have been studied. I'd also like to have them take a glance, at least, at my suggestion of a single reversible lane for buses and high-occupancy vans only at peak times. (Let trucks use it off-peak to separate them from cars.)

Some proponents of widening I-270 to the max have dismissed the notion of any further study -- insisting it will only delay the project. But all you have to do is look at the finances of the Maryland Transportation Authority and you'll see it may be a long time before any project of the magnitude of an I-270 widening can be financed.

So let's study away: the Andrews plan, the Ross plan, the off-the-wall-Baltimore-Guy plan, whatever.




Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:20 PM | | Comments (3)

November 4, 2009

MTA explains light rail limitations

Chikwe C. Njoku had a suggestion for the Maryland Transit Administration about its light rail service. He thought he saw a way to improve it. So we passed along this message to the agency:

(I) wonder if it would be prudent for the MTA to explore a Hunt Valley/Timonium to Camden Yard train that has a reverse direction stop at Penn? As Baltimore continues to become “DC centric”.. I see many people, including myself, disembarking at Mt. Royal and walking to Penn to catch the MARC. Few wait for the Penn Shuttle to funnel them into the Penn Station.

Granted, walking is a GOOD thing, but everyone may not share this ambition,  especially in inclement weather. A Hunt Valley/Timonium to Camden Yard Train could run at key times only during morning and evening rush. Ideally, there would be a dedicated switch track between North Ave and Mt Royal to carry the train into the existing Penn Shuttle Line into Penn Station.

However; that would cost $$ that the MTA doesn’t have. Why couldn’t the train reverse direction into Penn like the former Penn (only) Shuttle used to do? It could then become the “Penn Camden Shuttle” and continue its run to Camden Yards. The reverse trip from Camden would also include a trip over to Penn Station, before going back out on to the main line and up to Hunt Valley/Timonium.

It's not the perfect scenario but as the demand continues to grow.. it could eventually justify a switch being built above Mt. Royal for direct northbound access to the Central line. It could have a minimal impact on the Penn- Camden’s run since it could be inserted only during AM or PM rush.

For the answer, click below:

Continue reading "MTA explains light rail limitations" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:10 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail

October 29, 2009

MTA explains that annoying extra rail stop

A reader named Michael recently sent me this email about the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail service:

I recently read your complaint that the MTA doesn't explain the stop between North Ave and Woodberry, which is one of the most annoying aspects of my commute to the county from the city. They stop there so that MTA employees can board the train/switch shifts from the nearby office.

This is absolutely absurd. Half of the time the conductors are late and we are stopped for upwards of 5 minutes. The MTA should change the location of this (switch) to the North Avenue station, which has 3 platforms (thus avoiding back-ups for every train because one employee was late) and could attract more riders who would otherwise have missed their train.

Twice i have missed my transfer to the lightrail because the 13 bus was late and arrived at the platform only to see the train stopped ahead on the tracks for the above mentioned maneuver. Having the train stop in the middle of an empty stretch for 5-10 minutes so that employees can shave 50 yards off their walk is absurd.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene provided this answer:

Thanks for the chance to respond to your reader's question about trains stopping to change operators. The operator relief point is located at the Light Rail Division rather than a nearby station because reporting for duty is an important part of our safety procedures. When operators report for each shift they receive daily instructions, pick up portable radios and are observed by a supervisor to ensure they are fit for duty. If this took place at a station instead of the division these reporting activities would have to take place in the open which is not practical.

Continue reading "MTA explains that annoying extra rail stop" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:17 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Light rail

October 13, 2009

Light rail woes leave riders in the dark

The Maryland Transit Administration light rail system developed what the MTA likes to call "minor problems" this afternoon when one of its trains broke down -- resulting in a delay of about a half-hour for at leatrt one train.

I know that because I was on that train -- a southbound run to BWI -- as it ground to a halt just north of North Avenue. For about 15 minutes we sat there, with no clue what was going on, before the train began moving again into the station.

Where it sat and sat and sat for what seemed like another 15 minutes. Again, no announcement from the MTA -- which might have been useful if you were headed to the Mount Roysl stop to catch a  train at Penn Station. 

Continue reading "Light rail woes leave riders in the dark" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail

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

Bolt offers option to D.C.

Martin Johnson of Baltimore  notes an everyday option for getting to and from Washington without a car that might not be familiar to most readers.

Bolt Bus offers seven buses a day from Penn Station to the Greenbelt Metro Station each day at a cost of $15 on weekdays and $16 on weekends.  Once you're in Greenbelt, you can reach almost anywhere you'd want to go in the Washington area via subway and Metrobus.

Whether this is a good deal depends on how you value your time and how easy it is to catch the bus. The Bolt Bus ride takes 45 minutes. Greyhound takes 55 minutes to deliver you to downtown D.C. at a prevailing cost of $13.50 nonrefundable, $17.50 refundable. It has many more trips but a poorly located station in an industrial area south of the stadiums.

The most economical 7-day-a-week option is still the combination of the light rail ($1.60) to BWI and the B-30 bus ($3) to Greenbelt Metro. That trip (measured from Mount Royal station to Greenbelt) can take anywhere from an hour and a quarter (roughly) to an hour and three-quarters depending on whether you catch the train that's synchronized with the B30. Checking the schedules is well worth the time.

Of course, the MARC train remains the best way to get between the two cities on weekdays -- except during periodic service meltdowns. It's a wise MARC rider who prints out the Bolt Bus,  Greyhound, light rail and B30 schedules and keeps copies in a purse or briefcase. You never know.







Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail, Local bus lines, MARC train, WMATA/D.C. Metro

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 2, 2009

Group would speed Yellow Line, slow Green Line

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a group that brings together the movers and shakers in the Baltimore region, has endorsed what could be a critical change in the metropolitan area's long-term plans by urging that the proposed Yellow Line from Lutherville to Columbia be made the top transit priority after connstruction of the proposed Red Line.

The alliance's recommendation, which represents a consensus view of Baltimore business and ciivic leaders, would jump that project ahead of the proposed extension of the current Metro subway beyond Johns Hopkins Hospital toward Morgan State and eventually White Marsh. It came as part of a report relleased Wednesday on Baltimore's prospects for transit-oriented development.

Both projects lie far in the future, but the effect of such a change of priorities could be profound for today's young workers and future generations. If adopted by government leaders, the new priority could accelerate job growth and transit service in such places as Towson and Columbia in the 2020s while delaying an expansion of transit in the Harford Road and Bel Air Road corridors until later decades.

Otis Rolley, president of the transportation alliance, said the Yellow Line -- part of a 2002 comprehensive regional transit plan -- offers better prospects for connecting major residential and employment centers than the Green Line plan.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:03 PM | | Comments (9)

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)

Bowie family left in the lurch by MTA

Neil Ottenstein of Bowie wrote this plaintive note after a particularly grim experience with the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail service on Saturday night.

I don't know whether either of you are the appropriate people to notify, but I thought I'd write in case you are and you didn't know about the transportation situation last night after the Orioles game.

It had been my understanding that Light Rail service would run through one hour after an Orioles game, so that in situations like last night when there was a rain delay which made the game end shortly before midnight there would then be service until about 1 AM. Unfortunately, this was not the case last night. My son and I arrived at the light rail station at midnight and shortly thereafter a light rail train to BWI arrived. We expected that there would be one to Glen Burnie/Cromwell station shortly after this, but there was no train. If we had known this was going to be the case we might have tried the BWI train and at least traveled closer to Cromwell. We continued to wait another 40 minutes before calling home to wake my wife to pick us up. We also gave a ride to a couple who were there and who couldn't contact someone to pick them up. When we arrived at Cromwell there were at least a half dozen other cars there whose owners presumably were stranded in Baltimore or at some stop on the way down on the BWI train. I will be contacting the MTA on Monday and contacting the Orioles later today asking them about the situation. This was a most distressing situation and I hope that this will never happen again.

I asked MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene to loook into what happened, and she delivered a prompt -- if not entirely satisfactory -- reply.

Continue reading "Bowie family left in the lurch by MTA" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:50 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail

August 7, 2009

No charges in Light Rail deaths

The Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office will bring no criminal charges against operators of Light Rail trains that killed two boys near Lutherville July 5 after Baltimore County police determined it was an accident.

Media briefng scheduled for 2 p.m.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Light rail

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 15, 2009

County police seek witness in light rail deaths

The Baltimore County police are trying to identify a potential witness in the July 5 deaths of two Lutherville teenagers on the light rail tracks outside that station. Police say a video inside the cabin of a train that is believed to have hit the two 17-year-olds about 2:57 that Sunday captured an image of the possible witness.

Police described the witness as a young man, in his teens or early twenties, with brown skin, a light-colored shirt and dark-colored shorts, who was carrying some items while he was on the train. Police are asking people who have information about the witness to call them at 410-307-2020.

The full release is attached.

Continue reading "County police seek witness in light rail deaths" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:11 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

July 9, 2009

MTA chief does the right thing

Paul J. Wiedefeld had a difficult decision to make Wednesday. The Maryland Transit Administration chief took about a half hour to think it over and then he did the right thing.

Confronted with the reality that the family of the two boys killed in Sunday's accident had lost confidence in the the MTA Police, he decided to turn over control of the investigation to the Baltimore County police. It was a good call -- and one many government officials would have resisted out of a reflexive urge to protect their turf and defend their agency.

My take is that Wiedefeld understood that no investigation could be successful without the cooperation of the dead boys' parents. The MTA police, for whatever reason, got off on the wrong foot with them. It was a no-win situation for the MTA, and Wiedefeld recognized that. There was no need for a prolonged public struggle with the bereaved parents, and Wiedefeld headed off a problem that could have ended up on the desk of the acting transportation secretary or the governor.

That's called earning your pay.

Continue reading "MTA chief does the right thing" »

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

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

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 7, 2009

MTA double fatality called an accident

The Maryland Transit Administration has determined that the two teenagers who were fatally struck by a train Sunday near the Lutherville light rail station were struck from behind as they walked in the middle of the tracks with their backs to a train, an MTA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

MTA police arrived at the judgment that the deaths were accidental after viewing video from the train that struck the pair about 2:55 p.m. Sunday, spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said.

The MTA said earlier Tuesday that they believed that Connor Peterson and Kyle Patrick Wankmiller, both 17, had been lying on the tracks while two trains passed over them. But Green said the video evidence shows the two were walking north on tracks that are usually used for southbound travel when they were run over.


Continue reading "MTA double fatality called an accident" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

MTA police seek public's help

The Maryland Transit Administration Police are  asking members of the public to come forward with any information they might have concerning a fatal incident near the Lutherville light rail station that left two teenagers dead.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene appealed to anyone who saw anything connected with the incident to call the MTA Police at 410-454-7720.

"We still need a lot of help in ferreting out what happened," she said.

Greene said investigators have reached no conclusions about what led to the deaths of Kyle Wankmiller and Connor Peterson, both 17, of Lutherville. She said police were still interviewing witnesses and verifying reports that people had been seen standing in a nearby wooded area
shortly before the incident.

Greene said the two were found lying between the rails of the southbound track just south of the Lutherville station. Evidence indicated that two trains struck them while passing over them while they were prone, but there were no signs they had been knocked over by a train, Greene said.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

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)

June 5, 2009

MTA to upgrade Falls Road light rail station

It looks like the Maryland Transit Administration is getting the state's share of federal stimulus money out on the street. The latest of several MTA station upgrades being funded by the feds is an expansion  of the undersized parking lot and other improvements at the Falls Road light rais station.

The cost of the project is $2.3 million. The project will expand the lot from 97 spaces to 197. Construction is expected to be completed next spring.

 Click below to read what  the MTA had top say about the project:


Continue reading "MTA to upgrade Falls Road light rail station" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail

June 4, 2009

Bad day for the MTA

The Maryland Transit Administration has faced a triple-whammy today as trouble struck on three of its modes of travel.

 The biggest disruption was on the light rail line, where bad weather and downed trees shut down the soouthern end of the line. Here's the update from the MTA:

 Last updated: June 04, 6:00 PM Due to downed wires, Light Rail is experiencing major delays on the southern end between Camden Yards and North Linthicum. MTA is in the process of implementing shuttle bus service between locations. We ask for your patience and cooperation.

Meanwhile, the MTA warned commuters on the Camden Line of potential flooding at the Laurel station.

Then, there are preliminary reports that a car hit a bus on the No. 20 route at Baltimore and Carey streets, sending at least 24 people to the hospital.

After weeks of relative quiet at the MTA, it's getting ugly out there.

Continue reading "Bad day for the MTA" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:46 PM | | Comments (1)

Light rail service disrupted

This just in from the Maryland Transit Administration:

Last updated: June 04, 5:00 PM 


Due to downed wires, Light Rail is experiencing major delays on the southern end between Camden Yards and North Linthicum. MTA is in the process of implementing shuttle bus service between locations. We ask for your patience and cooperation.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the problems are the result of heavy rains and falling trees. She said the bus bridge is up and running and that repair crews are att the scene.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

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)

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" »

Mayor Dixon talks transportation

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Sheila Dixon to talk about transportation issues, It's a topic very close to the heart of the mayor, an avid  bicyclist who uses her rides around the city to get an up-close look at Baltimore infrastructure.

Some topics:

Speed cameras: Dixon expressed relief that a petition drive aimed at invalidating a law passed  by the General Assembly expandig the use of speed cameras failed. She said the city has a serious problem with speeding and not enough officers to enforce traffic laws.

Roundabouts: The mayor said she, too, finds the Towson rounabout confusing, even though her administration is looking at creating six of them to replace busy interchanges. She said she got a good look at the possible benefits of such traffic circles during a trip to Chicago. Dixon said she especially likes the opportunity to create green space in the  center  of the roundabouts.

Red Line: Dixon restated her backing for Red Line Alternative 4C -- a light rail system running in a tunnel under Cooks Lane and through downtown and Fells Point  but on the surface in Canton and Edmondson Village. But she said she understands the concerns of residents of the affected neighborhoods. She said the existing north-south light rail system down Howard Street -- built with the state-of-the-art technology of the early 1990s -- has colored people's opinions about the Red Line.

"People look at it like it's the light rail and it's not not," she  said. Dixon said  newer light rail technology is much quieter and will blend in better with the communities it serves. "People can't vision it the way we plan it to be."

The City that Paves: Despite severe recession-related budget cuts, the mayor said the city is still on track to repave 220 lane-miles this year. 

Stimulus money: Dixon said it's out on the street right now, paying for the resurfacing of Northern Parkway and Orleans Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                




Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bicycles, For policy wonks only, Light rail, On the roads, Red Line

May 15, 2009

State seeks $4 billion in transportation earmarks

Maryland is seeking more than $3.6 billion in congressional earmarks for transit projects, along with an additional $327 million for highway work, according to a document released Friday by the state Department of Transportation.

The request is part of process leading up to congressional action on a new six-year surface transportation spending reauthorization bill. The current law expires this year. States typically request many dollars for each one that ends up in the legislation.

Jack Cahalan, a department spokesman, said the wish list reflects the state’s priorities of transit, preparations for military base realignment, safety and bridge rehabilitation. The transit requests include $1.3 billion for the proposed east-west Red Line in Baltimore as well as $1.8 million for two transit lines in the Washington suburbs. The request also includes $188 million for the extension of Baltimore’s Metro subway line in the direction of Morgan State University.

All in all, the list brings few surprises. Most of the requests are for projects that have long been high priorities of the O'Malley administration and, in many cases, the Ehrlich administration as well.

On the transit side, the state is also seeking $100 million for the Baltimore bus system, $60 million for local bus systems, $60 million to study Amtrak tunnel replacement and $126  million for a new BWI railroad station.

Highway request include $30 million each for BRAC-related projects around Andrews Air Force Base, Aberdeen Proving Ground, For Meade and the Bethesda National Naval Center. Money is also being sought for improvements on Interstate 70, 695 and 81.



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

April 24, 2009

Stranded at Camden Yards? Blame the feds

Justin Pats of Alexandria, Va., got a rude surprise after the Orioles game Thursday night. He learned that the Maryland Transit Administration no longer operates the after-game charter buses that used to take riders who arrived by MARC back to their cars. What a way to put a damper on a victory.

Pats managed to get home because his father drive him back to Northern Virginia. Still, that was quite a haul for his father, who lives north of Baltimore.

Naturally, Pats is wondering what the score is and whether there are any good alternatives.

"As a season ticket holder this will become quite a hassle, especially coming up from NoVa in rush hour to see games. Have the Orioles taken any stance on this or provided any viable alternatives? Also, you mentioned there are charter buses "filling the void.' Do you have any more information on this so i can actually go back home after enjoying a complete O's game?"

Actually, Justin, I mentioned in a recent article that charter bus companies had filled the void for Ravens games. I wouldn't expect much help for Orioles fans.

The team really has no say in the matter. I'm sure they're unhappy about the discontinuation, but they didn't get a vote in the decision. I doubt they'll go into the bus business though.

It wasn't the MTA's call either. They discontinued the game buses under pressure from the Federal Transit Administration, which controls a hefty chunk of the MTA budget. The MTA's remaining service is constrained by the limitations of their one connection to D.C. – the B30 bus, which is run by the Washington Metro agency. And really you can’t blame WMATA for not building its B30 and subway schedule around the Orioles.

Don't look to charter operators to fill the void as they have for Ravens games because baseball crowds are smaller and less predictable. What would be profitable on a Yankees weekend would be a bust on a rainy Thursday with the White Sox in town. Neither the MTA nor the Maryland Stadium Authority is aware of any charter interest.

 So I’m afraid you’re just out of luck unless it’s a very fast game. The culprits, if you want to call them that, are the feds and the charter bus companies that pressed for the rule under the previous administration. These private operators really wanted the football business, but to get at it they needed a rule keeping public transit agencies from serving any athletic events. Orioles fans who live in the D.C. area are what you could call “collateral damage.”

 So if you want to get back to Alexandria via transit, you'll need to catch the last B30 bus that departs the BWI Business District at 10:44 p.m. and arrives at Greenbelt at 11:20 p.m. - 10 minutes before that station closes on weekdays. To be sure of catching the B30, riders have to catch the 10:08 p.m. light rail train to BWI. If the Light Rail is running late that could be cutting it close. So some eighth-inning departures may be a necessity.

One alternative, if you have a car but don't want to deal with Camden Yards parking costs and traffic, would be to drive to the North Linthicum light rail station, with its ample parking, and take a train in from there. You could also use the BWI Business District lot, but the return trains run half as frequently.

Or maybe set up a "Stranded O's Fans" group on Facebook and arrange a car pool. Sorry the news isn't better.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:20 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail

April 23, 2009

A transit stop is a terrible thing to waste

Wednesday evening found me at the Centre Street light rail station, and since it took a while for a BWI train to make an appearance, I had some time to take in my surroundings.

What a waste!

The area of Howard and Centre in the evening has the feel not of blight but of abandonment. There's little pedestrian traffic, and the dim lighting gives the station a spooky feel. The 600 block of Howard is a strip of apparently vacant or underused buildings.

"Transit-oriented development" is a bit of a buzzword now in planning circles, but this is a corner that cries out for this medicine. It's convenient to  lively, healthy neighborhoods and there aren't a lot of existing renters to displace.  Gentrification that doesn't displace anybody. What's not to like?

 At 610 N. Howard St., on the west side of the street, there's a large, boarded-up commercial structure -- the former home of Planned Parenthood -- that cries out for mixed-use redevelopment. The vacant property is now up for sale for a cool $3.25 million. Oddly, there's an ad for  the property online that lists all of its features except for the light rail station right outside the front door.

Across the street is the old Greyhound bus station, with plenty of parking. Add a little neon and bring some life to the corner, and I could see a popular restaurant/nightspot there.

The southeast corner is a surface parking lot -- hardly the ideal use of a property right on a transit route.

That entire area within a block or two of the Centre Street Station needs a master developer to enter into a partnership with the city and Maryland Transit Administration to bring housing, offices, shops, restaurants and night life to the corner.

Maryland Department of Transportation Planning Director Don Halligan said the Centre Street Station is part of a planning process launched last year for redevelopment of the Howard Street corridor. He said the city and state see the opportunity there.

"This is the core of the city. It's the core of the system," he said. "We're trying to develop a strategy for the whole corridor so these small places don't get lost."

Fair enough. But there's something about "corridor strategies" that sounds suspiciously like decades of talk. A thought should be given to jump-starting development within a block of the station  and building out from there. Filling in that dark gap would connect Seton Hill with Mount Vernon and encourage people to use the station after the sun goes down.

But before we start drawing up a 20-year plan, could the city  and state please get together and  improve the lighting at the station? Now.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail

April 22, 2009

View from the light rail

This morning, for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with Earth Day, I decided to leave my car at the BWI Business District station and take the light rail into Baltimore.

It had been a few months since I'd taken the light rail into town, so what jumped out at me was the progress being made in clearing the waterfront at Westport for future development. The old eyesores that had blighted the area are gone, and the ground is smoothed-over and apparently ready for construction.

If I rode the light rail regularly, I would probably be tuning out the view from the window. But as an occasional rider, I always enjoy the perspective the light rail ride gives on Baltimore. There's an excellent view of the Hanover Street Bridge, an architectural gem, and the harbor crossing offers glimpses of both the city's industrial underbelly and what remains of the natural shoreline that greeted John Smith.

Anyway, it was an uneventful ride from BWI to Centre Street. There were plenty of free parking spaces. The ticket machines were working. The train was on time. The cars were clean. The wheels stayed on. Riders had plenty of room. Only one fellow rider was talking to himself out loud. The Maryland Transit Administration wasn't screwing up anything that I could see.

Sometimes this much-maligned system works just fine. Let's see how it works out tonight.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:22 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Light rail
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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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