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Cheatham wants another new Circulator line

After the recent launch of the third line of Baltimore's Charm City Circulator -- the Green Route serving Johns Hopkins Hospital, Fells Point and Harbor East -- former city NAACP chief Marvin L. Cheatham Sr. weighed in with a proposal of his own: a Blue Route between City Hall and the state office complex at Eutaw and Preston streets.

For Cheatham,now president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Action Network, the No. 1 argument his fairness. He says his proposed route would be one for "those who actually live and work in Baltimore city" -- implying that users of the previous three routes do not.

Cheatham complains that the Maryland Transit Administration routes on Eutaw Street are among the worst in the system. He believes there should be a free service for riders in that corridor.

I'm skeptical.


The main reason is the corridor Cheatham is proposing to serve is already intensively served by the MTA. The Metro runs straight from the City Hall area to State Center via Lexington Market at much better speeds than the Circulator can achieve. Eutaw's bus service may leave much to be desired, but one block away is the light rail.

Cheatham contends it's a matter of fairness. "Quicker is not the issue. The issue is FREE!!" he wrote.

The problem is that the Circulator is not intended to be a free replacement for under-performing MTTA routes. Nor does the city have the resources to duplicate every MTA route that riders are dissatisfied with.

The surest way to kill off the Circulator entirely -- all three existing routes plus the proposed Red, White and Blue Route to Fort McHenry -- is to let it grow too big for the revenue streams that support it. Would Cheatham's proposed route do that? I don't know, but the city administration has to weigh calls for expanding the Circulator -- whether from Yuppies in Canton and Charles Village or poor people who live near State Center -- with an eye toward the bottom line.

It is a political dilemma. The idea of free is so appealing that once the city provides it in a few central areas, it's tough to tune out the demands to expand to new areas.  In the Circulator's popularity could lie the seeds of its undoing.

The Green Route was aided by some powerful private sponsorships -- including Hopkins and East Baltimore Development Inc. It's hard to see those materializing for a route whose bookends are City Hall and State Center.

Still, it's an interesting concept and worthy of discussion. I do think Cheatham's wrong, however, when he implies the current routes are not benefiting low-income residents of Baltimore. When I've ridden the Circulator, I've seen a good mix of the city's different populations. The Green Route, in particular, serves several low-income neighborhoods. My suspicion is that residents of those areas are less concerned about abstract notions of fairness than about keeping what they already have.


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