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" »

April 7, 2011

MARC, commuter buses to run during shutdown

If the federal government shuts down because of the current budget impasses, as seems increasingly likely, MARC and commuter bus service will continue on a normal schedule -- at least at first.

The Maryland Transit Administration says that if ridership levels plummet, it might decide to reduce service. But transit riders who work for  non-government employers in Washington -- as well as reverse commuters -- apparently will not be forced into cars because of a shutdown.


Continue reading "MARC, commuter buses to run during shutdown" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:09 PM | | Comments (1)

January 31, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 27, 2011

MTA offers limited bus service; light rail delayed

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

 Here's the word on the buses:

 Local Bus Emergency News & Service Update

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

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


January 26, 2011

MTA 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)

January 18, 2011

York bus service likely headed for Towson

A bus service that now runs between York, Pa., and the Hunt Valley-Timonium area is likely to be extended soon to several stops in Towson, a move it hopes will give it the "critical mass" to make it a clear success.

rabbittransit, the York transit provider, is in the final stages of gathering public comments about the proposed  service and is  tentatively expecting to launch the Towson service in mid-February, said executive director Richard Farr.

Continue reading "York bus service likely headed for Towson" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local bus lines

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" »

November 17, 2010

Riders rate 4 bus routes particularly low

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, which is surveying Maryland Transit Administration customers on the quality of service they receive, said it has identified four bus routes with a higher level of complaints than others.

With 1,450  responses to the Rate Yor Ride survey tabulated, the association said Routes 5, 15, 19 and 77 stand out with a high volume of negative comments. The association said lateness was the primary complaint,  along with missed stops and buses too crowded too pick up passengers waiting at stops.

The alliance said it met with  the MTA to discuss the preliminary findings. It said the survey so far shows the highest level of satisfaction on Routes 1, 46, 22 and 91.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:09 PM | | Comments (24)

November 12, 2010

Howard County to add cutting-edge electric buses

Howard County will add three electric buses that use an advanced technology -- the first of its kind in an American public transit system -- that lets the vehicles be recharged without pluggiing them in to an outlet.

County Executive Ken Ulman announced that Howarrd Transit has received federal funding to acquire the full-size, lightweight buses for use on routes in and around Columbia. The buses use what is called an inductive charger that repowers the bus batteries without a physical connection.

According to Howard County, the technology has been used successfully in Europe but has not been used on an American transit system. The $4.7 million acquisition is being financed primarily by a $3.7 million Federal Transit Administration grant authorized under the federal economic stimulus program. The buses  are slated for use on Howard Transit's busy Green Route serving the Mall in Columbia, Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:43 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local bus lines

MTA invites public to stuff a bus

The Maryland Transit Administration and two partners are inviting the public to stuff MTA buses with non-perishable foods for the Maryland Food bank this weekend in Baltimore and Howard counties.

The MTA, in partnership with Giant Food and MIX 106.5 FM, will station buses at the Giant stores at 7944 Honeygo Boulevard in White Marsh and 9200 Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City. The buses will be open for stuffing Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Donations  will be used to stock the food bank and to help families in need.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:38 AM | | Comments (1)

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.


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 21, 2010

CharmCard "a first step," MTA chief says

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

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

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


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

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

September 17, 2010

MTA smart card coming Tuesday

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

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

Continue reading "MTA smart card coming Tuesday" »

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

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)

August 3, 2010

Pitcairn friend urges more transit options

Monday's Getting There column in The Sun suggested ways in which the Maryland Transit Administration could make its bus service more attractive to travelers coming in to Penn Station -- especially late at night. That drew the following response from Danielle  Gilkes, a friend of Stephen Pitcairn, the young Johns Hopkins researcher whose murder prompted the column:


I am a friend and colleague of Stephen Pitcairn who worked with him at Johns Hopkins. I wanted to say thank you for printing suggestions that could potentially save other people’s lives when traveling within Baltimore. Your ideas for MTA are excellent.


Continue reading "Pitcairn friend urges more transit options" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:33 PM | | Comments (4)

Proposed ICC bus routes lean one way

The Maryland Transit Administration's proposed bus routes to operate on the Inter-county Connector lean heavily toward bringing workers from homes in the Interstate 270 corridor and Frederick-Hagerstown area to jobs in the Interstate 95 corridor -- with relatively little in the mix for Baltimore-area workers traveling the other way.

The MTA outlined its ICC commuter bus plans at the first of three informational meetings Tuesday night in Laurel. It was a lightly attended, confrontation-free meeting at which MTA officials spent much of their time listening to suggestions from attendees -- especially representatives of employers in the area.

There's a lot to like about the MTA's plans, which go a  fair way toward realizing the promise that the ICC would be a significant mass transit corridor. But the proposal isn't very reassuring for those who hope to see the controversial toll road become a truly two-way road instead of one that carries traffic east in the morning and west in the evening. One of the selling points for the ICC was that it would more firmly bind the two largest regions of  the state together as an economic unit. This plan, while it may be a realistic appraisal of the current market, fails to significantly advance that goal.

In short, Baltimore remains an afterthought.

Continue reading "Proposed ICC bus routes lean one way" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:01 AM | | Comments (4)

July 22, 2010

TRAC opposes proposed MTA changes to No. 15

The Transit Riders Action Council has come out in opposition to proposed changes to the No. 15 bus route in order to create a new QuickBus line along its path. 

TRAC  contends  that shifting runs of the No. 15  to a proposed  new. No. 47 would extend waiting and  increase crowding for riders  of the  existing route. According to TRAC, the No. 15 is already one of the most troubled MTA routes but says the MTA's  prescription will only make mattters worse.

The group is recommending in its place a restructuring of the current No. 15 route,  breaking it into multiple lines to eliminate the multiple branches that complicate the line. The MTA would be wise to consider carefully TRAC's objections because these folks do know the dirty details of Baltimore' bus routes.

TRAC notes that the MTA’s detailed list of changes are posted at Comments are due by 5 p.m. Friday at .


Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local bus lines, MTA, MTA bus system

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)

July 15, 2010

City apologizes for Circulator follies

I reached a spokesman for the city, Barry Robinson, chief of transit/marine services. He acknowledged the city screwed up by changing the Purple Route before putting up signage. He said the route should have gone to a detour that still served Penn Station but instead went to Artscape route too soon.

He apologized for the problems, which he blamed on dispatch errors. He said signs notifying riders of closed stops were going up today.

Good apology but still shoddy performance. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:01 PM | | Comments (2)

July 9, 2010

Maryland gets 3 transit grants -- 2 in city

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 8, 2010

MTA extends call center hours

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "MTA extends call center hours" »

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

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 3, 2010

A view from the right on the MTA

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2010

Howard Transit has an attitude problem

Since our destination Saturday was a wine festival in Columbia, and my wife and I planned to do some tasting, it made sense to take advantage of our local transit service. So we hopped aboard the Silver Route at U.S. 1 and took a ride to Columbia Mall.

The ride was fine, and the improved buses were appreciated, but we came away with the impression that Howard Transit and its affiliated service, Connect-a-Ride, need  to stage an intervention with some of their drivers.

The problem was that the signs designating which route the buses at the Columbia Mall were serving weren't working. So the transit system had posted makeshift signs to indicate the route. Some of the drivers seemed to think those signs were so crystal-clear that riders had no business asking them which route the bus was serving. They made their feelings known with rude, sarcastic answers.

Continue reading "Howard Transit has an attitude problem" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:46 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local bus lines

Howard Transit service on the chopping block

Howard County will hold a public hearing next  Tuesday on a series of service cuts, as well as a fare increase, that County Executive Ken Ulman has proposed to deal with rising costs at a time when money is scarce.

If the changes announced by Howard County's locally operated transit agency are adopted, the base fare would rise from $1.50 to $2 -- compared  wiith the $1.60 charged by the Maryland Transit Administration.  The agency would also eliminate three routes and diiscontinue all Sunday service.

The county will hold a public hearing on the changes May 25 at 7 p.m. at the Ascend One Building, 8930 Stanford Blvd. in Columbia.

Continue reading "Howard Transit service on the chopping block" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local bus lines

May 12, 2010

MTA lists Preakness options

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

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

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

The best transit options to Preakness are as follows:


Continue reading "MTA lists Preakness options" »

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

March 30, 2010

MTA seeks volunteers to test new 'smart' card

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

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

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

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

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

March 29, 2010

MTA chief weighs in on communication issues

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

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2010

Peeling paint curbs bus lane enforcement

The bus lanes launched with considerable ballyhoo on Pratt and Lombard streets by Baltimore city late last year have reverted to their former all-purpose use after the paint used to designate them peeled off during snow removal efforts, a city official acknowledges.

Barry Robinson, chief of transit and marine services in the Baltimore Department of Transportation, said the city has put enforcement of the bus lane regulations on the back burner until it can reapply the paint marking the right lanes of those downtown streets for buses only.

The bus lanes were set up, with fines for other vehicles encroaching on them, as part of the preparation for the launch of the Charm City Circulator -- a free shuttle bus serving downtown. The Circulator's first route made its debut in January with the bus lanes in place, but by the time the last residue of February's two snowstorms was removed, so was much of the paint.

"Snow removal operations -- that has all  served to eradicate the striping on the bus lanes," Robinson reports.

Continue reading "Peeling paint curbs bus lane enforcement " »

March 9, 2010

MTA trip planner is up and running

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

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


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

March 5, 2010

U.S. announces transit grants for Maryland

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

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

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

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

• $2.9 million to improve MARC public address systems.

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

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

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

March 1, 2010

MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon

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

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

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

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


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

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

MTA trip planner isn't working

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

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

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

December 28, 2009

MTA rider finds roaches in her coaches

Reader Deborah O'Sullivan had a problem with the Maryland Transit Administration that was really bugging her, so she turned to Getting There for help. She wrote:

I noticed that you did a story on the appointment of Ralign T. Wells as the new MTA administrator.  In the interest of the hundreds of us who ride the MTA 120 Bus out of White Marsh, I am requesting your help and maybe you could let Mr. Wells know that the bus line is infested with roaches.  The roaches crawl all over the windows and onto the riders, making for an extremely traumatic ride to and from work.  These conditions are unhealthy and disgusting. 
                                                                                      Photo by Clipart Graphics

Continue reading "MTA rider finds roaches in her coaches" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local bus lines

December 23, 2009

Bus service affected by water main break

This just in from the Maryland Transit Administration:

Service on Fayette Street & Charles Street is diverted due to a water main break:

Bus Nos. #5, #6, #8,  #20, #23, #36, #40, #48 Quick Bus, and #91 will make the following diversions:

Regular route on Fayette Street to St. Paul Street then:
Left on St. Paul Street
Right on Lombard Street
Right on Charles Street
Left on  Fayette Street 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local bus lines

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 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 12, 2009

MTA bus runs light on Charles St.

What was the rush this morning that compelled the operator of bus No. 9917 to run a red light on Charles Street at Saratoga Street this morning at about 8:50 a.m.? This wasn't a close-call yellow. It was red as blood when the bus crossed into the intersection (with a reporter right behind). Good thing nobody on Saratoga was making a jackrabbit start.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:14 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Local bus lines

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)

September 25, 2009

Charm City Circulator makes cameo appearance

Charm City circulator

Guest post from my colleague Tim Wheeler, who writes about the environment and green living over at the B'More Green blog.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you – yes, that’s the Charm City Circulator Bus. It made a cameo appearance today in Harbor East, where workers and residents got a chance to kick the tires and board it during a lunchtime rally at the Katyn Memorial to promote alternatives to driving in the bustling, at-times gridlocked neighborhood.

But no, the long-promised downtown shuttle still is not ready for prime time. City officials say that the global recession and problems getting parts have delayed the delivery of the 21 hybrid electric buses the city is acquiring. City officials had said a month ago they still hoped to get it running by the end of summer – which was Monday – but now talk about "fall/winter."

"We’ve got to get it right and get the right product," says Laurie Schwartz, director of the Waterfront Partnership, a coalition of businesses, residents and city officials. Still, Schwartz acknowledged, "It’s taken way longer than anyone ever expected and hoped."

Undeterred, officials launched a new campaign today aimed at getting folks who work, shop or live in Harbor East to try walking, biking, taking a water taxi or riding another bus – anything to cut down on the traffic that often clogs the streets.

Whole Foods, whose supermarket there is a huge draw, was on hand to give out healthy snacks and water. Others stood by with bikes, free advice and information about urban bike safety and the other transportation modes officials hope will ease the area’s traffic woes.

The new campaign, "A Smarter Way to Get There," is aimed at the thousands of workers in the new offices and stores there, or their bosses. A survey of major employers found something like 60 percent of the workers reported they drive alone to and from their jobs, while only 14 percent take transit and 4 percent walk or bike, Schwartz said.

The Partnership, one of the sponsors of the initiative, along with the city and area businesses, has unveiled a Web site meant to give workers and residents an easy guide to all the travel options they have.

Photo courtesy of Mark Dennis

Posted by Michelle Deal-Zimmerman at 5:04 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local bus lines

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)

August 18, 2009

MTA adds new Quickbus route this month

The Maryland Transit Administration will add a new express bus route between the downtown University  of Maryland Transit Center and Towson as part of a series of changes it will make in its fall schedule.

The new No. 48 Quickbus will provide limited-stop service along the current route of the No. 8 bus line, one of the system's busiest. The new route, which will replace the express runs of the No. 8 line, is modeled on the crosstown No. 40 Quickbus service begun several years ago.

Weekday service on the 48 will run every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the Greenmount Avenue-York Road corridor. On Saturdays, service will begin at 7 a.m. and continue until 7 p.m. The line will not operate on Sundays, when the route will be served by the No. 8.

Other changes in the  fall schedule, which will  go into effect Aug. 30, include new schedules of Routes No. 3, 4, 16, 20, 21, 27, 29,  36, 48, 51 and 150. The current M1, M2 and M6 routes will be redesignated the No. 52, No. 53 and No. 57 respectively. The M17 route is being eliminated, with service between the Owings Mills Metro Station and Red Land Court being switched to the No. 59 route.

On the No. 17 route to Anne Arundel County, service to the Airport 100 Business Park and the State Employees Credit Union headquarters will be eliminated. Some  runs will terminate at Arundel Mills, others at Parkway Center.

Other changes will occur on Routes No. 7, 8, 14, 15, 24, 33, 35 and 48 routes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Local bus lines

July 20, 2009

Transportation chief reins in audio surveillance idea

By Michael Dresser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTA thinking of listening in? Never mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 9, 2009

MTA falls in line with WMATA cell/text policy


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

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

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

Unsolicited advice for the MTA

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

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

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

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

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

July 2, 2009

Reader warns of irrational transit-phobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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)

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" »

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 11, 2009

Bus riders: Here's something cool

Here's something interesting from Howard Transit: a web site that'll tell your cell phone or Blackberry when the next bus is coming. All transit agencies should have something like  this.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local bus lines, MTA bus system
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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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