October 3, 2011

MTA posts strong ridership gains in 3 categories

The Maryland Transit Administration ranked near the top of the nations list in ridership gains in three categories during the first six months of this year, according to the American Public Transit Association.

The national trade group for transit agencies said Baltimore posted a 10.4 percent increase  in light rail ridership and a 10 percent increase on its Metro system over last year during the January-June period. That  gave the light rail system the seventh-highest gain in the ranking of 27 similar systems. The Metro gain was the third-largest out of 15 heavy rail systems.

Baltimore's bus system also posted a strong gain of 7.5 percent -- putting it among the leaders in that category as well.

The associations reported that 5.2 billion trips were taken on U.S. transit systems during the six-month period, a 1.7 percent increase over the comparable period last year. Nationally, APTA said, heavy rail use increased 3.8 percent and light rail use 3.7 percent. It reported a slight increase in bus ridership.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:28 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

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" »

August 15, 2011

Delegation members announce grants for Baltimore

A new Charm City Circulator route to Fort McHenry and a road project intended to reconnect West Baltimore communities divided by the "Highway to Nowhere" will receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, four members of the Maryland congressional delegation announced.

U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikuslki and Benjamin L. Cadin, along with U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes said the grants will provide $1.6 million for the new Circulator route and $1.7 million for the reconfiguration of the Fulton Avenue bridge in the part of the  U.S. 40 corridor known as the Highway to Nowhere.

The Circulator grant is expected to help the city get its free "Star Spangled" route in operation in time for the bicentennial observance of the War of 1812. The new route is expected to run from the Inner Harbor to the fort along Fort Avenue on a year-round basis. The grant will be used over three years and will cover 65 percent of the route's cost.

The West Baltimore project will reconfigure the five-lane Fulton bridge to integrate it with a pedestrian-bicycle network and to add landscaping and storm water management improvements. According to the delegation members, the project had been launched but was put on hold when funds ran short.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:52 PM | | Comments (4)

June 24, 2011

MARC riders' group rejects new MTA web site

The negative reactions to the Maryland Transit Administration's new web site design just keep coming in -- and not just from professional malcontents.

The following criticque comes from Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council and an eminently reasonable person. The MTA ought to be listening.

I strongly echo the poster's criticism of the new site. For MARC riders, it's a big step backwards, and I say this as a computer professional who deals on a daily basis with users who resist change even though it's necessary. In this case, it's a step beyond not liking something new.

Continue reading "MARC riders' group rejects new MTA web site" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:18 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train, MTA

Rare bidding tie favors minority firm

A contract bidding process for a maintenance and repair contract with the MARC commuter rail system produced an unusual tie that was resolved by giving the job to the minority-controlled firm.

According to the agenda for the July 6 Board of Public Works meeting, two firms tied for the low bid on the more than $5 million contact while another came within $80.  The work consists of maintaining the grounds, fixing public address systems and making repairs to stations on the Penn, Camden and Brunswick lines.

M. Stancliff Construction Co. of Seabrook and Denver-Elek Inc. of Baltimore submitted identical bids of $5,076,200, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. Mercier's Inc. of Harmans offered to do the work for $5,076,280. Two other bidders were higher.

The contract has been awarded to Stancliff because it is a certified "disadvantaged business enterprise" -- a tie-breaker under state procurement regulations.

There's nothing obviously wrong about the award. It's just notable for how close it was. The winning bid came in under the MTA engineer's estimate of $5.4 million, so it looks as if the state got a decent price.

If there's anything more to this story, please contact Getting There at




Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

June 23, 2011

Reader nails it on MTA's failed new web site

This was posted as a comment on this blog, but I thought it deserved promotion as a full-fledged item unto itself.

The writer, who goes by the handle of Bill, explains the issues much better then I could. Are you reading, Ralign Wells?

"While the MTA is to be commended for bring their website into the new millennium, clearly they were more concerned with style over substance. The one positive thing they've done is remove Flash from the home page, which will make mobile users extremely happy. And that's where the happiness ends. "

To Mr Owens, NO this is not about not liking something new, it's about good web design.

"They moved the most important information (service status) from the top of the page, to the lower left corner -- a clear no-no in web design (and I know, I'm in that business). You want the important information to display as quickly as possible, the top of the page is the best place for that, so users don't have to wait for the entire page to load.


Continue reading "Reader nails it on MTA's failed new web site" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:50 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MTA

MTA's new web site gets thumbs down

The Maryland Transit Administration has long had many things that desperately need fixing. (See the previous item.) But one of the things about the MTA that worked was its web site, with clear information on each of its transit modes up at the top where information could easily be found.

So guess what the MTA chose to fix? Here's what Sam Freedman of Baltimore had to say about it:

MTA has redesigned their website. They did a horrid job. There is now no marc schedule information whatsoever available online. I'm on the 419 headed to union station and I have no idea what time we are due in. Also, something seems to have happened to all the pdf files for the local bus routes.

I checked it out, and I agree with Freedman. It's not that schedule information isn't there, it's just that you need a bloodhound to find anything. Things that one could easily find with a few clicks now seem to take a trip through a maze. Alerts are far less conspicuous. It looks like a case of designers running amok.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said our reaction may be a case of instinctive rejection of anything new. Maybe. But my guess is that Freedman will continue to dislike the new format a week, a month and a year from now. And I suspect I'll still agree.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:33 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: MTA

June 14, 2011

Baltimore ranks near middle in senior transit access

Baltimore ranks just about in the middle of its class in the percentage of its older population with poo access to transit services, according to a new report issued by the advocacy group Transportation for America.

Out of 46 metropolitan areas with populations of 1-3 million, Baltimore ranked 25th on a list in which a lower ranking was better. The group found that 53 percent of Baltimore-area residents aged 65 to 79 are expected to have poor access to transit in 2015.

While the ranking wasn't stellar, it wasn't close to the worst in the rankings. That dubious distinction went to Kansas City, where 88 percent of the population in that age group had no good alternatives to private cars. The best metropolitan area for transit access for the elderly was No. 46 San Francisco, where only 12 percent of those 65-79 had poor transit access.

The report, called "Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options," contends that many Baby Boom generation retires face a future of increasing isolation and decreased mobility because of a lack of alternatives to increasingly expensive private vehicles.


Continue reading "Baltimore ranks near middle in senior transit access" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:36 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

June 3, 2011

New report of MTA photo follies crops up

Wednesday's statement by Maryland Transit Administrator Ralign T. Wells repudiating attempts by his agency's police officers to shut down photography at MTA facilities should put that lamentable practice to rest -- until the next time it crops up.  But The Sun's report of the incidents that prompted a threat by the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the MTA brought back memories to Richard L. Allman, past president of the  East Penn Traction Club in Villanova, Pa.

He wrote:

Some friends and I went for a fun day of transit photography in April, 2008. We went to the Patapsco Avenue station of the Light Rail line where we were accosted by a transit policeman who told us that we were engaged in an illegal activity and that we must stop forthwith and leave, per Department of Homeland Security policy.


Continue reading "New report of MTA photo follies crops up" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

May 20, 2011

MTA offers transit options for Preakness

The Maryland Transit Administration is offering a menu of transit options for getting to the Preakness without a car. Here is its description of those services:

(BALTIMORE, MD) May 19, 2011—Preakness fans are being encouraged again this year to avoid
traffic and the hassles of parking by taking the MTA’s local bus, Metro Subway, and Light Rail to
Pimlico Race Course.


Continue reading "MTA offers transit options for Preakness" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

May 5, 2011

Porcari to tour Mondawmin center

Former Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari will make a homecoming of sorts in his role as deputy U.S. secretary of transportation when he tours the Maryland Transit Administration's Mondawmin center to highlight the MTA's use of hybrid buses.

Porcari will ostensibly be making a tour to see some of the hybrid buses Maryland has added to its fleet as part of its conversion from old-fashioned diesel technology. But it's hardly like Porcari's never seen a hybrid bus before -- having headed the Maryland transportation department at a time when the O'Malley administration committed heavily to the technology.

Porcari's trip will coincide with a visit by President Obama to an Allison Transmission plant in Indiana, where he is expected to tout the hybrid technology as part of a strategy to lessen American dependence on foreign oil.

According to the MTA, Maryland has invested in the purchase of 181 buses that use the Allison hybrid technology.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

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

May 2, 2011

MTA says patrols may increase

The Maryland Transit Administration issued a carefully worded statement indicating that it has ratcheted up security after the announcement of the death of Osama bib Laden.

The MTA statement  said the agency's approach to security "remains comprehensive and multi-layered." He said passengers may see "some visible signs of changes and others not as visible."

"For example, there might be more uniformed patrols and more undercover patrols," the MTA state.

The agency encouraged members of the public to report anything unusual. It said the number to call with security information is 1-800-492-TIPS ( 1-800-492-8477).


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:25 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

April 25, 2011

MTA slide show remembers Schaefer

The Maryland Transit Administration has put on its web site an interesting slide show of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's involvement with mass transit over the years.

However, it's doubtful that Schaefer would have pleased about the fact that the photos showed he spent a lot of time in the company of Harry R. Hughes, the former governor and transportation secretary, who appears in about one-third of the pictures.

There's no doubt the two men's careers were intertwined, but neither ever seemed to be very thrilled about that fact.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

February 16, 2011

Is MTA signage a bit overripe?

Alan E. Povey of Baltimore has a track record of keeping the Maryland Transit Administration on its toes. The following email shows he hasn't given up his watchdog ways:

Michael, I e-mailed you last summer about the incorrect signage promoting attractions at MTA light rail stops, and also mentioned an incorrect bus stop sign on northbound Howard St. north of Lombard.  It showed a schedule for the #10 line, which hadn't used that route for over a year.  You forwarded my e-mail to the MTA, and [deputy administrator] Henry Kay responded regarding the bus stop sign that the MTA occasionally overlooked a sign when schedules changed.  He said the signage would be corrected promptly.

Continue reading "Is MTA signage a bit overripe?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:51 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MTA

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)

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

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

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

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

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

January 5, 2011

MTA introduces CharmCard for seniors

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

January 3, 2011

Census shows transit lags in Baltimore County

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

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

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

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

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

December 14, 2010

MTA operators' union chief gets new term

The president of the union local that represents bus and rail operators for the Maryland Transit Administration has won a second term.

The Baltimore-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 said David McClure has been re-elected by the union membership for a three-year term as president and business agent. He was first elected in 2007.

The local represents about 3,000 members, primarily MTA employees.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:11 PM |
Categories: MTA

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)

December 6, 2010

Shot Tower Metro Station reopens

The Shot Tower Metro Station, which was evacuated and closed at 4:36 p.m. because of smoke from the nearby five-alarm fire on East Baltimore Street, was reopened at 5:48 p.m., the Maryland Transit Administration said.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

Contracts awarded for ICC bus routes

The Maryland Transit Administration has selected operators for two commuter bus lines that will run on the Inter-county Connector after the first phase of the toll road is opened.

S & L Enterprises of Hagerstown, which does business  as Atlantic Coast Charters, has been awarded a three-year contract to operate a route between Gaithersburg and BWI Marshall Airport with a bid of $4.39 million. Eyre Bus Service of Waldorf submitted a winning $1.28 million bid for a  three-year contract to provide service on a route between Gaithersburg and Fort  Meade.

Both contracts are scheduled  for a Board of Public Works vote Dec. 15. The first phase of the ICC, between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue, is expected to open early next year, and the bus service is scheduled to begin then. The second phase, between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95, is scheduled to open about a year later.

Continue reading "Contracts awarded for ICC bus routes" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)

December 2, 2010

Signs of change at MTA? What do you think?

The fact that two slot machines in close proximity yield big jackpots at the same time does not show the casino has changed the abysmal odds in favor of the gambler, but it is an occurrence that gets your attention.

So too was it when two readers in one week wrote in to laud what they see as  an improved attitude toward customer service at the Maryland Transit Administration under the leadership of Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who took the helm of the agency about a year ago.

Earlier, Getting There reported on Ada Orie's delight to find Wells taking a  ride on her sometimes-troubled Route 120 bus. Now we hear from Hazel McWeeney of Owings Mills, who also has good things to say about the MTA. Here's how McWeeney puts it:


I ride the subway daily from Owings Mills to Hopkins I want to tell you that in the past nine months there has been a huge improvement in service and communications.  I think (Wells)  has accomplished what I believed to be the impossible.

Continue reading "Signs of change at MTA? What do you think?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:55 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MTA

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

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 8, 2010

MTA rider finds card defective, service more so

When MTA customers Bernard and Maria Smith found that their new CharmCard wasn't working, they reported the problem to MTA customer service. That's when they really encountered a defective system.

Bernard Smiith gave this account:

On Thursday evening, he and his wife were going to their church, where  she was to  sing with the  choir. But when the got to the Charles  Street Metro station, they found that her Charm Card would  not work to open any oof the gates. Bernard Smith then went to the ticket machine and tapped the card, which showed there was a monthly pass on it with almost a month of value.

They sought help from the  attendant, who was apparently no help. Mr. Smith described her as "clueless." A supervisor was summoned, but by the time he got there Mrs. Smith had missed her choir time.

That night, the Smiths called the 800 number on the card and reported the problem. Mr. Smith said  he was told that the would have  to go downtown to the MTA Store to resolve the problem


Continue reading "MTA rider finds card defective, service more so" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MTA

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

Marathon to alter 24 bus routes

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

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

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


Continue reading "Marathon to alter 24 bus routes" »

October 8, 2010

MTA holds annual Bus Roadeo Saturday

The Maryland Transit Administration will hold its annual Bus and Maintenance Roadeo Saturday, showcasing the skills of its drivers and maintenance teams at a free public event.

Bus enthusiasts can catch the event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Reisterstown Plaza Metro Station. The event will be hosted by radio personality Tom Watts.

As part of the program, operators and mechanics compete in timed drills demonstrating various professional skills. Admission is free. Children's activities are planned.  Antique buses will be on display. It  may not be for everybody, but for MTA employees and their families, it's  a big deal.




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

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)

October 4, 2010

MTA gets federal money for bus system

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to announce $776 million in Federal Transit Administration grants to local transit systems today, and the Maryland Transit Administration is in line to receive about $14 million to replace its ancient Bush Street bus barn and to install a modern bus cleaning system.

 Here are the detaiils:


Maryland DOT
Project: Bus Shop Construction
Amount: $12,000,000

MDOT will use the funds to replace its 103 year-old Bush Street bus maintenance shop, which has exceeded its useful life.  The replacement facility will be used to maintain and accommodate 700 new hybrid and articulated buses.  Construction of the building will be complete with repair/inspection bays, space for parts storage, and a dedicated rebuilding area.

Maryland DOT
Project: Bus Wash Replacement
Grant Amount: $1,723,050

Maryland DOT’s old bus wash systems will be replaced with new energy efficient and environmentally friendly bus wash systems that can accommodate both conventional diesel and hybrid buses. A water reclamation system will recycle water used by the bus wash.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:29 AM | | Comments (0)

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

Book fair to divert MTA, Circulator buses

The Baltimore Book Festival will take over Mount Vernon Place Friday through Sunday, and one the events will be the traditional Rerouting of the Buses.

This year the Baltimore Department of Transportation will join the Maryland Transit Administration in the annual diversion as the fledgling Purple Route of the Charm City Circulator encouinters its first book fair. Riders can only hope it copes better than it did during Artscape.

The MTA announced that starting Thursday at 8 a.m. its northbound bus Routes No. 3, 11, 64 and 61 will be diverted  off Charles Street onto Centre Street and then Chase Street before rejoining Charles.  The southbound buses, which run on St. Paul Street, will need  no detour.

Continue reading "Book fair to divert MTA, Circulator buses" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service, MTA, MTA bus system, On the roads

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 30, 2010

MARC ridership falls in July

MARC ridership on the Brunswick line is down more than 9 percent compared to last July, but the MTA attributes it to the summer vacation season. From the Associated Press:

The Maryland Transit Administration says ridership on MARC's Brunswick line was down 9.3 percent last month compared to a year earlier.

Ridership on all three MARC lines fell 1.1 percent from July 2009, with an average of 31,748 riders per day, and about 6.4 percent from June. But the Brunswick line, which runs from Washington to West Virginia, saw a 9.3 percent drop compared to a year earlier, with an average of 6,819 daily riders.

Maryland Transit Administration officials attribute the drop to summer vacation season.

The Camden line, which runs between Baltimore and Washington, saw a 3 percent drop, but the Penn line, which runs from Perryville to Washington, posted a 2.2 percent increase with an average of 21,047 daily riders.

Weren't people on vacation last July, too? What else could account for this drop? The Camden line also saw a drop, albeit a more modest 3 percent.

MARC riders: Has there been a bit more space in the cars during your commute?

Posted by Maryann James at 5:03 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MARC train, MTA

August 20, 2010

MTA Police seeking cadets

The Maryland Transit Administration Police have launched a cadet program and are seeking to recruit men and women 18-20 to participate.

The MTA program will offer qualified young people a year of on-the-job training for a career in law enforcement. The paid positions will give cadets the opportunity to advance to permanent jobs as MTA police officers when they turn 21. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and have a high school diploma or  the equivalent. They must also undergo drug testing and a background check.

For information, call the  MTA at  410-767-3860.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

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)

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 23, 2010

MTA proposing ICC bus routes; meetings set

The Maryland Transit Administration is proposing several bus routes that would operate along the Inter-county Connector and has scheduled three meetings to brief the public on its plans.

When the first segment of the ICC from Interstate 270 to Georgia Avenue opens, late this year or early next year, the MTA plans to launch two express routes connecting park-and-ride lots in Montgomery County to BWI, the MARC Penn Line and Fort Meade. The BWI service is expected to run seven days a week between 4 a.m. and 11 p.m. The Fort Meade service would operate during rush hours Monday through Friday.

The MTA said future ICC routes would connect  Columbia and Bethesda, Urbana and College Park and Greenbelt and Germantown. The stretch of the ICC between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95 is expected to open in early 2012.


Continue reading "MTA proposing ICC bus routes; meetings set" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA

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

Mobility customer wants someone at MTA to listen

Leslie Kassal of Baltimore is a user of the Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility service for the disabled, and an unusually grateful one at that. But like so many others, she's having a hard time penetrating the bureaucratic thicket that is the MTA. Would somebody there please take her off permanent hold and help her?

Here's her story:

Below you will find a copy of an email that I sent to MTA today, about two incidents that were highly disturbing to me:


I am a Mobility customer, and as such, I feel terrifically blessed.  Mobility enables me to go to doctor appointments, to my volunteer job, and to a day program that I attend.


Continue reading "Mobility customer wants someone at MTA to listen" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA

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 21, 2010

MTA backs off plan to close bus stops

The Maryland Transit Administration has backed off a plan to close about eight bus stops in the city after a protest from transit advocates.

The decision announced this morning came after the Transit Riders Action Council objected late Tuesday, saying the decision to close stops in Mount Vernon came without seeking the opinions of transit riders.

"To ensure that we hear from all voices on decisions that impact the communities (served),  MTA is reviewing its process for bus stop eliminations. Our drivers have been told to continue service at the stops in question until further notice," MTA spokesman Terry Owens said in an email.

While this defuses the immediate controversy, TRAC insists the proposed closings were  part of a broader trend toward eliminating stops -- often with little notice or discussion. According, the MTA has eliminated many bus stops in Baltimore in recent years -- making it more difficult for elderly and disabled riders to use the system.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:30 PM | | Comments (9)

July 20, 2010

TRAC protests bus stop eliminations

The Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore is protesting a decision by the Maryland Transit Administration to eliminate at least several bus stops in the Mount Vernon area as early as Wednesday with what TRAC contends was inadequate notification.

Accoording to TRAC, signs have gone up notifying riders of closings at such corners as Charlles and Read streets, Charles  and Chase streets and St. Paul St. at Read. Affected lines include Nos. 3, 11, 61 and  64, according to TRAC.

The organization contends the closings are part of a broader pattern of bus  stop eliminations for reasons TRAC finds questionable. The group contends the elimination of stops poses  a hardship for elderly and disabled riders who have difficulty walking as far as other riders.

The MTA's public affairs was closed by the time the matter came to our attention, but we'll be seeking an explanation of the agency's bus stop closing policies.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City bus service, MTA, MTA bus system

July 16, 2010

Montgomery councilman sees the light on light rail

Montgomery County Councilman Roget Berliner, who briefly flirted with the really bad idea of single-tracking light rail on part of the proposed New Carrollton-Bethesda Purple Line, has seen the light.

The Washington Examiner reports  that Berliner abandoned yesterday his suggestion that the Maryland Transit Administration consider using just one track through the right of way bisecting the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase to save a few  hundred trees, concluding that such a plan would slow trains and discourage ridership.

Getting There pointed out last week the anyone with knowledge of how single-tracking worked out on Baltimore's light rail line would run for the hills at the merest suggestion of such a scheme. At the time, Berliner defended his suggestion, saying he was responding to constituents' concerns about the Capital Crescent Trail, but he has apparently gathered enough information in the past week to help him understand how single-tracking hampers a rail line's operations. After all, there's a reason Baltimore had to shut down and rebuild its light rail line at great expense.

This blog doesn't take credit for Berliner's conversion but does congratulate him for reaching a wise conclusion.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA

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)

Bus rider weighs in on MTA

This blog gets a lot of email from MARC riders and relatively little from the long-suffering riders of MTA buses. But Ada Orie of Towson wanted to weigh in on the problems of the Route 120 bus. Here's what she had to say:

I would like to first thank you for your honest articles on public transportation. Thank you for not sugar coating anything and being honest. As a commuter is refreshing to read your articles. When I used to ride the light rail, I used to write you every now and again. I have been a daily rider for over a year of the 120 White Marsh Express bus. The concept is a good one. I can park my car and take a bus down 95.

There has been numerous problems with the morning service. Two weeks ago I wrote a complaint about a bus that never showed. The bus broke down and the replacement was on the way. The bus was due in White Marsh at 8:25 and I did not find out this information until 8:45. At 9:00am I got ride with someone downtown. I read about someone's generic response they got from the MTA about the MARC train. At least they got a response.

Today I waited for the 8:30 bus. I called and I was told a bus was pulled off the line. This in turn causes a delay. I was also told a bus was on the way and if it did not come by 8:40, to call back because then it was seriously late. I wrote another letter to the MTA which I am including below for you to read. I hope I get a response. I am on my late bus now as I write you  and my driver came at 8:42 and I am already downtown. Have a great day and keep writing the truth.

She added this update today:


Continue reading "Bus rider weighs in on MTA " »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:24 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City bus service, MTA, MTA bus system

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 1, 2010

MTA reaches out through social media

The Maryland Transiit Administration has been taking its licks for its communications lapses since June 21's infamous MARC "hell train" incident, but give it credit for making an effort to harness the emerging social media to get its messages out.

About a month ago, the MTA quietly launched  a beta test of its Facebook and  Twitter accounts. Now it is moving to put the two into wider use use to send out service alerts and deliver other timely information.

Customers can  click to follow the MTA on Twitter or to sign up for a  Facebook account. Twitter, of course, has space limitations, but the MTA plans to use Facebook to post photos, answer questions and receive feedback. It sounds as if it's worth trying for regular riders of MARC and ther transit services.

Tell them the Baltimore Sun's Getting There blog sent you.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MTA

MTA non-answers a rider's questions

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

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

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

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


Mr. Wells:

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

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

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

June 29, 2010

MTA keeps tight grip on information

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

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

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

Continue reading "MTA keeps tight grip on information" »

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

June 28, 2010

MTA email account: Return to sender

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

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

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

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

Elaine Jones



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

June 15, 2010

MTA chief outlines priorities

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun/Kenneth Lam

Continue reading "MTA chief outlines priorities" »

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

June 14, 2010

MTA chief to speak tonight at TRAC

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

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

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

June 3, 2010

Feds seek public input on transit project criteria

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

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

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

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


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

A view from the right on the MTA

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

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

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

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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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