Five months later, MTA's $135 million BaltimoreLink bus overhaul has increased reliability, but ridership remains flat

Five months after the Maryland Transit Administration rerouted its entire Baltimore-area bus network, buses now arrive on time about 80 percent of the time, but ridership remains flat, according to MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn.

The $135 million bus system overhaul called BaltimoreLink has increased reliability by 9 percent, thanks in part to new bus-only lanes designed to help buses bypass gridlock downtown and traffic-light sensors that extend green lights and shorten red ones for them, among other measures, he said.

“That may not sound like a lot, but any transit system nationwide would be thrilled with a 9 percent increase in reliability,” he said. “All around, pieces are coming into place.”

The agency has been tweaking the system based on rider feedback since the June launch, Quinn said, and it incorporated ridership trends into its proposed 2018 Winter Service Adjustments set to take place in February.

The MTA is hosting public meetings this week to get rider feedback on those changes, which include the proposed addition of a new LocalLink 63 route to TradePoint Atlantic; the removal of three commuter routes, ExpressLink 102, 106 and 107; the proposed realignment of nine other routes; and other service changes.

While ridership has remained flat since BaltimoreLink’s launch, Quinn said evaluating its success after five months is premature. The MTA lost some riders and gained others during the transition, and the two weeks of free service, he said. The addition of 27,000 students when school started in September also makes the ridership impact difficult to assess, Quinn said.

“There’s still a lot of ups and down here and there,” he said. “I think the dust has yet to settle on the ridership question. Time will tell to see how it increases.”

Other changes Quinn called a success. The system’s first two bus-only lanes, on Lombard and Pratt streets, lowered bus wait times by a quarter, he said. The MTA saw time savings of 22 percent on Loch Raven Boulevard and York Road-Greenmount Avenue, the first two corridors to receive traffic-light sensors for buses, he said.

Brian O'Malley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a rider advocacy group, agreed that it’s too early to judge BaltimoreLink’s ridership.

Many people decide where to live or work based on the available transportation options, and those decisions take more than a few months to play out on a large scale, he said.

“I’d be very interested to see where ridership is in June 2018,” O’Malley said. “I even was prepared for it to dip down a bit as riders adjusted to the changes.”

The alliance plans to release a Central Maryland Transportation Report Card grading the Baltimore region against similarly sized regions like Charlotte, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver and Seattle on a dozen indicators including accessibility to jobs by public transportation, hours of delay in traffic, air pollution, walkability, reliable public transportation and commute time, O’Malley said.

He declined to share Baltimore’s grades ahead of the report card’s publication on Friday at a news conference planned at Impact Hub Baltimore in Station North.

Of the MTA’s proposed winter changes, O’Malley said cutting the three routes make sense because ridership is low.

His biggest question remains the same regarding any service change: “At the end of the day, do we come out even or ahead or are we losing service?”

Riders interested in voicing their opinion about the changes can attend one of the following public meetings:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 14, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Rita Church Community Center, 2101 Saint Lo Drive, Baltimore. (Transit to this location via CityLink Gold and LocalLink 21, 22, and 54.)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 15, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Baltimore County Public Library North Point Branch, 1716 Merritt Blvd. Baltimore.(Transit to this location via LocalLink 62.)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 15, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel, Grason Room, 903 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. (Transit to this location via CityLink Red and Green, LocalLink 36, 51, 52, 53, and 93, and Express BusLink 102 and 106.)
  • Thursday, Nov. 16, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Fairfield Inn, Lombard Room, 101 S. President St., Baltimore. (Transit to this location via CityLink Blue, Brown, Navy, Orange, and Purple, LocalLink 65, and Metro SubwayLink.)

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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