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 4, 2011

MTA adds to fleet of hybrid buses

The Maryland Transportation Administration is expanding its fleet of diesel/hybrid buses with a purchase of 12 in a purchase from New Flyer, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced.

The purchase of the dozen 60-foot, articulated buses brings the MTA's hybrid fleet to 193, or 27 percent of its total. The number of hybrid 60-footers will grow from 30 to 42.

The agency is in the process of converting its entire fleet to the fuel-saving hybrids. It is scheduled to add 57 more in early January. While the buses cost more than conventional diesel vehicles, MTA officials say they save 20 percent on fuel, cost less for maintenance and travel farther on the same set of brakes.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:18 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MTA bus system

June 21, 2011

MTA replies to complaints about No. 27 bus route

Getting There reader Jed Weeks recently wrote to complain about service on the Maryland Transit Administration's No. 27 route -- gripes he shared with readers of this blog.

Weeks' constructive agitation brought a response from MTA spokesman Terry Owens. The gist of it, I thing, is that the MTA's going to try harder but isn't promising much. You judge:

Thanks for sharing the concerns of Mr. Jed Weeks regarding the #27 line. Because of his active involvement with our social media team we were aware of the issues raised in your column.

We have been able to document many of the problems he cited through monitoring of the line with our Service Quality team and that monitoring will continue until we are satisfied with the routes performance.

Continue reading "MTA replies to complaints about No. 27 bus route" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:26 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MTA bus system

June 8, 2011

Service on MTA's No. 27 route called poor

Jed Weeks of Baltimore, a regular commenter in this space, recently raised his concerns about the Maryland Transit Administration's No. 27 bus route with Administrator Ralign T. Wells. Weeks was good enough to share his concerns with Getting There:

I am a daily #27 bus rider. My most frequent commute takes me from 35th and Chestnut to around Lexington Market, and reverse home in the evening. Without fail, I encounter at least two no-show buses per week. This typically happens with the bus scheduled to arrive at 36th and Roland at either 9:25am or 9:55am. However, I have encountered no-show buses at almost every time of the day on various days trying to ride this line.

In addition to the no-show buses, I would estimate that only one bus I ride per week southbound is on time. Most are over 10 minutes late. The northbound buses seem to manage this much better.

Continue reading "Service on MTA's No. 27 route called poor" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: MTA bus system

June 1, 2011

MTA bus crash injures as many as 18

At least 18 people were reported injured Wednesday after a passenger vehicle collided with a Maryland Transit Administration in West Baltimore, the MTA reported. The crash put the two-day total of reported injuries in MTA accidents at 30.

MTA spokesman John Wesley said a personal vehicle carrying three people ran a stop sign at Edmondson Avenue and Chapelgate Road about 2:35 p.m. and hit a MTA bus on the No. 40 route. He said 15 people aboard the bus reported injuries and were taken to a local hospital, while the driver and two passengers were transported to the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center. One of those taken to Shock-Trauma was ejected from the car, the MTA spokesman said.

Wesley said he did not know yet the total number of people on the bus. He said he believed the bus was one of the MTA's newer hybrid diesel-electric models.


Continue reading "MTA bus crash injures as many as 18" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA bus system

May 20, 2011

MTA seeks OK to order 57 new hybrid buses

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to buy 57 new hybrid diesel-electric buses by piggybacking on a purchase by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The department is scheduled to bring that $38.5 million contract with New Flyer of America  to the Board of Public Works for approval at its June 1 meeting. If it is approved, as is routine for this type of contract, the MTA will increase the number of hybrid buses in its 706-vehicle fleet to about 250. The MTA is in the process of converting from an all-diesel fleet to an all-hybrid fleet.

According to the MTA, piggybacking on an existing order by another transit agency will save the agency both on the purchase price and the delivery time. It said the new buses will replace aging vehicles that require extra maintenance.

The agency said its piggyback contract will save it almost $31,000 on the price of each bus, lowering the cost to $647.108 per vehicle. The MTA contends that while the hybrid vehicles cost more up front, the state saves money in the long term because of their superior fuel economy and lower maintenance costs. MTA spokesman John Wesley said the 57 new buses would likely go into service in early 2012.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:47 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA bus system

May 5, 2011

Neighbors seek closing of Kirk Avenue Bus Yard

Residents of Baltimore's Greenmount West community plan to hold a protest Thursday night to call for the closing of the Maryland Transit Administration's bus yard on Kirk Avenue, arguing that it generates noise and air pollution that hurt the neighborhood.

The protest comes as the MTA holds a community meeting at Cecil Elementary School  to outline its plans for improvements at the Kirk Avenue yard. Resident5s complain that buses idle continuously at the yard, that loudspeakers blare through the night and that diesel fuel runoff from buses gets into their yards.

Resident could face a long struggle. Even if the MTA were to decide it wanted a new yard, it might take years for it to rise to the top of the state's transportation priority list. The state would presumably also have to find land in a place where community opposition wouldn't be just as fierce.

That's a tall order.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MTA bus system

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)

March 14, 2011

MTA replies to on-time complaint

Getting There thanks Terry Owens, spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, for his prompt reply to the complaint about the No. 1 bus route registered by rider Youssef Mahmoud. Here goes:

We appreciate input from our passengers. We are also proud of the fact that the MTA moves over 350,000 people every day with the majority arriving at their destinations on time. However, when someone like Mr. Mahmoud experiences a service delay we understand his frustration, and seek to resolve performance issues to the best of our ability.

We have heard from Mr. Mahmoud often in recent months via social media and your blog. His concerns are being taken seriously. I have asked our Service Quality Division to investigate his latest issue with MTA Local Bus Service.

Continue reading "MTA replies to on-time complaint" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:44 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: MTA bus system

Rider frustrated with performance of No. 1 bus

Maryland Transit Administration rider Youssef Mahmoud is frustrated with the performance  of the No. 1 bus route, which runs from Sinai Hospital to Fort McHenry.

Let's let Mahmoud state his case:


A few weeks ago you put up a Getting There post about some bus routes that were getting reworked to address chronic lateness.  I commented on that post saying that I was shocked the route 1 bus was not on that list as I seldom had a timely experience with it.  You forwarded my comment to MTA spokesman Terry Owens, who gave the useless reply that the on-time rate for the route 1 is 90% and therefore there was nothing to worry about.  Well, I was just again today made late to work by the route 1 and I was hoping you could get me directly in touch with someone at the MTA who will actually listen to my complaint and offer a helpful response.  So, let me give you some background.

Continue reading "Rider frustrated with performance of No. 1 bus" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MTA bus system

February 21, 2011

Blog urges MTA to extend bus line to Frederick

Brian DiNunno, on his blog Green Pivots, argues that the Maryland Transit Administration's Route No. 991 should start in downtown Frederick rather than at Monocacy Station. He makes a good case, though he makes it sound a bit more simple and cost-free than it actually would be.

Such a move would involve a renegotiation of the contract with the provider at a higher rate to compensate for the added time and distance. It's doubtful the MTA would undertake that unless there were evidence it would bring increased ridership. But it's a question worth asking.



Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:04 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MTA bus system

February 18, 2011

MTA's definition of 'on time' questioned

Jonathan Howard of Baltimore recently read a story on this blog in which Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens explained the MTA's criteria for considering a bus on time. Howard found that the explanation didn't jibe with what he encountered on the streets.

 Let's let him explain:

In your "Getting There" blog Feb 2, you received from Terry Owens the details of how MTA comes up with its on-time statistics for buses.  I was not the only reader to notice the fallacy this phrase:
"In addition, on-time performance only includes buses on the street. It does not factor delays experienced by riders when an individual bus is removed from a route for mechanical or other issues. "
My Tuesday morning commute was a perfect example of why this is a flawed method for deriving data about quality and efficiency of service. 

Continue reading "MTA's definition of 'on time' questioned" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MTA bus system

February 2, 2011

How does MTA count a bus as on time?

In response to some earlier reader comments, Getting There set out to determine how the Maryland Transit Administration calculates whether a local bus is "on time" or not. After all, it's not very helpful if riders and the agency are using different definitions.

It turns out the policy at the MTA is that a bus is considered "on time" if it is anywhere between one minute early and five minutes late compared with its schedule at various measurement points.


Continue reading "How does MTA count a bus as on time?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:09 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA bus system

February 1, 2011

MTA announces changes to 14 bus lines

The Maryland Transit Administration has announced changes to 14 bus lines in an effort to improve service. The changes will be implemented Feb. 6.

 Some of the changes address deficiencies found in a survey by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance in a report released today. In particular, the report identified Routes 77, 23, 27, 15 as being among those with a high level of rider dissatisfaction.

 Here are route-by-route details of the changes:

Continue reading "MTA announces changes to 14 bus lines" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:22 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA bus system

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

MTA rider has bus service blues

Baltimore resident Eric Stull is a hard-working guy with two jobs and a rough commute from Northeast Baltimore to Timonium via two bus routes. But lately the Maryland Transit Administration hasn't been making it any easier. Here's his story:

  1.  I thought I’d give you an account of my experience riding MTA buses in Baltimore in recent days.  I live in northeast Baltimore, near the intersection of Old Harford Road and Northern Parkway, which is where I get off and on the #55 bus.  From the #55, I connect at the Towson Town Center to the #8 bus, which takes me to or from the Lutherville Station, where I walk to or from my work in Timonium.  The length of the journey is eight miles, and on most days, I do this only one-way, usually homeward in the evening, catching a ride to work with my wife in the morning.  When I commuted regularly by bicycle to work, as I have often done over the last four years for many months at a time, most recently from last April until the middle of November, at which point I had to stop because of cycling-induced pain, pedaling took forty-five or fifty minutes on average.  After first attempting to read the schedules and plot my own course, I started using the MTA website’s Trip Planner to plan my bus-riding time most efficiently.  Both before and since beginning to use the Trip Planner, my journey routinely takes an hour and a half or more.  The chief reason for this seems to be that some scheduled buses simply do not come.  

Continue reading "MTA rider has bus service blues" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:18 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: MTA bus system

January 5, 2011

MTA introduces CharmCard for seniors

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

January 3, 2011

Census shows transit lags in Baltimore County

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

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

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

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

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

December 13, 2010

Tax break for transit commuters extended in bill

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

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

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


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

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

December 8, 2010

MTA operators may be turning away money

Some Maryland Transit Administration bus operators may be taking their fare boxes out of operation and failing to collect fares in an effort to keep up their records for on-time performance, according to a high-ranking MTA official.

According to Deputy Administrator for Operations  Michael S. Davis, these operators are placing orange covers or paper over the fare boxes even when they are operational. Such a move would speed the movement of passengers onto the bus but deny the MTA needed revenue.

In  an email to an MTA customer,  Davis tells a rider that "we take a hard  stand on this." He says the MTA has a procedure operators must follow before a broken fare box is taken out of operation. In an interview, Davis played down the problem.

"We don't have anything to suggest it's a large percentage," he said. Davis added that some operators have been disciplined for violating the  MTA's revenue collection procedures.

Getting There is asking MTA customers and operators to email with information about this practice for a further follow-up.  

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:00 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: MTA bus system

December 7, 2010

Fire-related street closings continue into tomorrow

All of the street closings that were in effect this morning as a result of the two 5-alarm fires in central Baltimore Monday and Tuesday will remain in effect for this evening's peak travel period  and the Wednesday morning rush hour, according to the Baltimore Department of Transportation. 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City bus service, MTA bus system, On the roads

December 6, 2010

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 1, 2010

MTA chief pays a call on Route 120 riders

Ada N. Orie is a very persistent woman who just won't give up when she thinks she's receiving bad service -- as the Maryland Transit Administration knows well.

For months, she's been in communication withh the MTA leadership, as well as Getting There, about inconsistent service and poor on-time performance on the Route 120 bus. She's managed to make her name well known in the office of MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells.

This week Orie had what she considered good news to report. I'll let her tell the story:

Mr. Dresser,

How are you doing? I hope you had a great holiday and your 2010 is coming to a peaceful end. It has been a while since I have written you. I want to thank you for being the voice of the commuters in Maryland. I like the fact that you listen and read our letters. Thank you for listening to my concerns over the years. I really appreciate it.

Continue reading "MTA chief pays a call on Route 120 riders" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA bus system

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 5, 2010

Election provides mixed news for transit projects

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

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

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


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

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

October 21, 2010

MTA: CharmCard a work in progress

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

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

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

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

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

October 14, 2010

CharmCard for seniors due in early 2011

This just in from the MTA website:

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


Marathon to alter 24 bus routes

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

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

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


Continue reading "Marathon to alter 24 bus routes" »

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 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)

September 16, 2010

Hopkins incident shows haze in official statements

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

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

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

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

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

Police say Hopkins Hospital open despite incident

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

August 23, 2010

MTA announces bus changes

The Maryland Transit Administration will introduce five new bus routes along with an extensive list of changes to other lines starting Sunday.

One route, No. 6, will be eliminated and replaced with a  new route. Express service on Route 91 will also be discontinued.


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Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA bus system

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.


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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 28, 2010

Mount Vernon couple wants bus stops to stay

A Mount Vernon couple just got back from out of town and saw last Saturday's Sun article about the Maryland Transit Administration delaying action on a proposal to eliminate seven bus stops near their home at the behest of the local neighborhood association.

It turns out the association doesn't speak for Joan and Tom Spence.

We were away when your article appeared  and it was with great dismay that we read about the proposal to close seven bus stops in the Mount Vernon area. We are a retired middle class couple who live in Mount Vernon. We voluntarily gave up our car a year ago to try an experiment of using public transportation.  The experiment has been a success. We have been able to go almost everywhere by taking buses, light rail and/or the Metro. We have shopped, gone to the movies, kept doctor and
dentist appointments etc etc.   Even our small dog has made trips to the
vet and kennel. We have only two complaints: there are too few buses and those there are don't keep to their schedules.  Otherwise, we have found the bus drivers courteous and our fellow passengers kind and helpful.

Continue reading "Mount Vernon couple wants bus stops to stay" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:59 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MTA bus system

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 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 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

Charm City Circulator: MARC on rubber wheels?

Has the Charm City Circulator morphed into a MARC train on wheels. Does Baltimore really need a second MTA? Has the Purple Route developed a circulatory disease?

All these snarky thoughts and more occurred to me today as I waited more than 40 minutes in 90-degree heat on St. Paul Street outside Penn Station for a Charm City Circulator Purple Route  bus that never did arrive.

To be sure, I could have cut the ordeal short by acting on my suspicion that the Circulator was messed up by the Artscape festival taking shape around the train station. But to the extent possible, I tried to replicate the experience of a visitor who had knew nothing about Artscape.

Let's just say that visitor wouldn't want to return to Baltimore -- or at least use its free shuttle service -- again any time soon.

It was 10:34 when I arrived at the Purple Route Penn Station stop. There was conspicuous signage for the Purple Route, along with  an electronic sign giving the time and the wait expected  for the next bus. It was noticeable that there was no signage up yet informing riders that the Penn Station stop would be closed during Artscape, but traffic along St. Paul was still running and the electronic sign kept promising an arriving bus. With advertised headways of 10 minutes, there was every reason to expect a bus by 10:44.

At 10:47 a.m. the electronic sign said a bus would come in 1 minute. A minute later, no bus. Then the sign rolled over to say the next bus would arrive in 18 minutes, leaving me and several other waiting riders puzzled. 

Continue reading "Charm City Circulator: MARC on rubber wheels?" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:52 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: City bus service, MARC train, MTA bus system

July 9, 2010

Maryland gets 3 transit grants -- 2 in city

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 8, 2010

MTA extends call center hours

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "MTA extends call center hours" »

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

July 1, 2010

MTA non-answers a rider's questions

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

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

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

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


Mr. Wells:

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

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

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

June 29, 2010

MTA keeps tight grip on information

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

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

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

Continue reading "MTA keeps tight grip on information" »

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

June 28, 2010

MTA email account: Return to sender

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

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

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

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

Elaine Jones



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

June 15, 2010

MTA chief outlines priorities

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun/Kenneth Lam

Continue reading "MTA chief outlines priorities" »

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

June 14, 2010

MTA chief to speak tonight at TRAC

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

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

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

June 2, 2010

Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan

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

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

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

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



Continue reading "Brown announces guaranteed-ride plan" »

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

May 27, 2010

Camden Yards is scene of security exercise

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


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

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

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

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

May 12, 2010

MTA lists Preakness options

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

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

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

The best transit options to Preakness are as follows:


Continue reading "MTA lists Preakness options" »

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

May 6, 2010

MTA seeks community views on bus routes

The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking public comments on its proposals to add two express bus routes and make changes to five other lines.

The MTA has scheduled three  public meetings at which it will provide information and answer questions about the proposed changes, which include the addition of QuickBus routes offering limited-stop service siimilar to that on the existing Route 40. A new Route 46 would roughly follow  the existing Routes 5 and 10 between Cedonia and Paradise Avenue. A No.  47 line would track the No.  15 line between Overlea and Walbrook Junction.

The MTA will also seek riders' views on changes to Routes, 4, 6, 10, 15 and 91.

The meetings will be held:

--Tuesday, May 11 at the Enoch Pratt  Free Library, 1303 Orleans St., from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

--Thursday, May 13 at Ben Secours Community Support Center, 26 N. Fulton St., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

--Monday, May 17 at the War Memorial Buillding, 101 N. Gay St., from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.





Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA bus system

May 3, 2010

MTA to compete for share of $775 million

The Maryland Transit Administration plans to put in a bid for a share of a $775 million grant program announced today by the U.S. Department of Transportation for bus systems around the country.

Henry Kay, the MTA's deputy administrator for planning, said the MTA will compete aggressively for a grant under the Federal Transit Administration program. He said the program can be used to finance either bus acquisition, improvements in bus maintenance facilities or transit planning.

Kay said that while no decision has been made about the nature of the MTA's grant request, the agency is likely to seek money to improve its facilities for maintaining the growing number of hybrid diesel-electric buses in its fleet.

Continue reading "MTA to compete for share of $775 million" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MTA bus system

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 17, 2010

MTA operator not fond of hybrids

Sun photo/2006

The Maryland Transit Administration has had nothing but laudatory things to say about its new hybrid buses. It has publicly praised them for their fuel efficiency, relative quiet and superior maintenance record.

But not every bus operator is a fan. During a recent ride on one of the MTA's busiest routes (which I'll omit for the driver's protection), the operator told me the hybrids aren't all they're cracked up to be in a number of ways.

According to the driver, the rear doors of the bus  are prone to closing automatically after three passengers have disembarked, even if it means they close on Passenger No. 4. He also said the front doors close too slowly, causing him to miss green lights.

His other gripes include the venicles' performance. He said the hybrids are too quick to accelerate  and too slow to stop.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the operator's complaints contradict what she has heard from MTA drivers. She said the feedback the MTA has received has been strongly positive and that there have been no complaints from passengers about injuries from doors. And as a passenger, I thought the ride was smoother and quieter than on the conventional bus I'd taken minutes earlier.

So what's the real deal here? MTA operators and passengers are invited to weigh in -- not that it will change anything. The MTA has committed to eventually replace all of its conventional diesel buses with the hybrids, which are partially fueled by an electric battery.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MTA bus system

March 5, 2010

U.S. announces transit grants for Maryland

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

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

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

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

• $2.9 million to improve MARC public address systems.

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

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

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

March 1, 2010

MTA hopes to have trip planner restored soon

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

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

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

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


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

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

MTA trip planner isn't working

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

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

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

February 4, 2010

Metro to close stations if snow exceeds 8 inches

The Washington Metro will close its above-ground stations if this weekend's expected snow accumulation exceeds 8 inches. The Maryland Transit Administration is warning MARC riders to be sure they can make their train connections Friday evvening if the snow falls faster than expected. Here's the MTA's release:

Attention MARC Passengers who transfer from Washington Metrorail to MARC at New Carrollton, College Park, Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Rockville-- Please be aware that Washington Metrorail will close all above-ground stations when snow accumulation reaches eight inches or more. While that level of accumulation is not anticipated by the end of tomorrow's rush hour, please have a backup plan to get to your MARC station in the event your Metro station closes.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:02 PM | | Comments (0)

MTA commuter buses set early return trips

Because of an exppected snowstorm, the Maryland Transit Administration has announced early return trips Friday afternoon for many of its commuter buses departing Baltimore and Washington. Many buses will be leaving three hours early.

Riders of MTA commuter routes should check the following release:

Continue reading "MTA commuter buses set early return trips" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA bus system

January 11, 2010

How new media and old can work together

The Maryland Politics Watch blog had the scoop: The Maryland Transit Administration had a plan in the works for listening devices on its buses. But the Baltimore Sun and Getting There blog had the reach and reporting resources to take the story to a higher level and bring about change. After The Sun contacted the Maryland Department of Transportation, the notion was quickly jettisoned.

It was nice of, a publication of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, to notice. It is the practice of the newspaper, and the blog, to give credit where credit is due. Blogs such as MPW are an important part of the information chain, and when their vigilance brings a matter such as this to light, they deserve a shout-out.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA bus system

December 31, 2009

MTA modifies bus routes due to snow

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

10:00am latest update:

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

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


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

December 23, 2009

Top 10 Md. transportation stories: 2000-2009

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

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

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

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


                                                                                                 Sun photo/Amy Davis/2006      

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

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

December 22, 2009

Md. cost of weekend snow removal: $26.9 million

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

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

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

December 21, 2009

MTA keeps going through the snow


                                                                                        The Sun/Karl Merton Ferron            

An MTA bus passenger waits for a ride Saturday.          

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

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

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

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

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

December 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

October 21, 2009

'Sunday Streets' concept to get road test

Roland Park will be the site Sunday of the first  field test of a concept known as "Sunday Streets," in which a main drag is given over  to pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders and other non-motorized traffic for a few hours on the weekend.

The Roland Park Civic League is working with other sponsors, including One Less Car and the Inn at the Colonnade, to  test a concept that has  its origins in Colombia.

Continue reading "'Sunday Streets' concept to get road test" »

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:02 PM | | Comments (0)

September 9, 2009

Blog weighs in on Yellow Line idea

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

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

Any thoughts?




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

September 8, 2009

Yellow Line may not be golden

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

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

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


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

September 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)

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 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

May 7, 2009

Weekend downtown traffic snarls predicted

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

May 6, 2009

The MTA steps up in a pinch

I love finding creative solutions to travel problems. Sometime you find the answer in new old ways.

I was invited this morning to ride with Gov. Martin O'Malley and transportation officials on a short jaunt from Locust Point to Camden Station aboard a new MARC locomotive. That was cool, but they weren't offering a return ride to the CSX yard in Locust Point to pick up my car.

Obviously, I could take a taxi back to Locust Point, but that seemed like the easy but expensive way out. And it would have delayed my return to The Sun at 501 N. Calvert Street to file my report to the web site.

The solution: Leave the car in The Sun garage, walk one block at St. Paul, catch the No. 64 bus to Light Street and Redwood Street and transfer to the No. 1 bus, which runs out Fort Avenue to Fort McHenry -- making it one of the most historically significant bus lines in the country.

Getting to the point -- there is a point -- it was a fine ride. I hear a lot of complaints about surly drivers for the Maryland Transit Administration, but the ones I dealt with were courteous, friendly and alerted riders to transfer points in a loud and clear manner. Especially helpful was the driver with Badge No. 159 on the No. 64 line. I didn't get the badge number of the equally capable operator of the No. 1 bus -- for which I apologize. It was nice of her to wake me out of my trance and let me know I'd passed my stop.

After the news conference at Camden Station, it was an easy matter to jump on the Light Rail to Centre Street. A five-block walk and I was back at The Sun.

This is such a car-oriented society that it's easy to overlook the fact that public transit is a great resource in many situations. In a big advance from olden times, comprehensive information on MTA routes and schedules is available on line. So is a trip planner that does just fine if not challenged with an overly complex problem.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 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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