Baltimore transit worker's union, supporters rally against BaltimoreLink changes

About 40 members and supporters of Baltimore’s transit worker union gathered at the War Memorial, near Baltimore’s City Hall, on Wednesday to protest changes to the city’s bus routes that they say have harmed riders and drivers.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 has been vocal in its criticism of Gov. Larry Hogan’s $135 million overhaul of the city bus system, known as BaltimoreLink, arguing that the route changes are creating headaches for riders who must make more transfers or catch buses at different stops.

Meanwhile, drivers are experiencing an increase in harassment, disorder and other issues, including being spit at, with more disgruntled riders on board, said David McClure, president of ATU Local 1300.

“We have a lot of people who are suffering right now because of the way it was implemented,” McClure said.

Hogan’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but the Maryland Transit Administration defended the BaltimoreLink overhaul, which launched in late June.

“The fact is BaltimoreLink is finally changing the unacceptable status quo that has existed in Baltimore City for decades, where disconnected and disorganized transit options simply haven’t connected residents to jobs,” said MTA spokeswoman Sandy Arnette.

She said over 130,000 more residents now have access to high-frequency service within a quarter-mile of their homes, nearly a third more than before BaltimoreLink.

“Since its launch,” Arnette said, “4 BaltimoreLink has consistently improved service and reliability, with on-time performance up nine percent and new dedicated bus lanes providing riders up to 25 percent time savings during rush hour. We are committed to continuing to work with riders to ensure we continue to improve the system every day.”

The union called on Hogan and the MTA to revisit the changes to add service and lines, “because right now, these people are not able to get where they need to be,” McClure said.

Seniors who must walk extra blocks to get to a bus stop are missing doctor’s appointments and some workers who rely on the bus must factor in extra commute time, to account for additional transfers, he said.

Ebony Johnson, 29, said she used to be able to get downtown in 15 minutes on one bus. Now, she has to make multiple transfers and the trip takes about an hour, she said.

“They claim it’s convenient,” she said. “Convenient for who?”

Led by McClure, the group marched from the War Memorial to the Maryland Transit Administration’s offices on St. Paul Street, carrying signs that read “Sink the Link” and “We demand justice & respect for Baltimore.”

Once there, people took turns addressing the crowd.

With an arm over his son, Rev. C.D. Witherspoon said he is worried that children will miss class or skip school entirely if they can’t navigate the new bus routes.

Eight-year-old Cortly Witherspoon Jr. can walk to school, but his other nieces and nephews must take a bus across town to get to school, he said.

“We’ve got a responsibility,” he yelled to the crowd, “and an obligation to hold MTA accountable.”

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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