Charles Village Circulator extension celebrated

Riders, Baltimore officials celebrate Charm City Circulator extension in Charles Village.

Amelia Rambissoon is one of thousands of riders expected to use the Charm City Circulator's extended Purple Route to Charles Village to work, school and the neighborhood's cultural attractions.

Rambissoon said Tuesday she will use the free bus service to commute the mile to work from her home in the city's Station North neighborhood to her job at the Historic Charles Street Association, and to visit friends who live near 33rd Street.

"You don't want to get an Uber, and it's kind of annoying to walk," she said, adding that she ditched her car when the Circulator was launched about five years ago.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake greeted riders Tuesday at the Circulator stop near the intersection of 33rd and St. Paul streets. The Purple Route extension opened Monday, as year-round operating hours were rolled out for the Circulator system.

"The Charm City Circulator is one of the city's best reviewed services," Rawlings-Blake said. "The ridership has exceeded all of our expectations, and I know this is something that is a big asset to the community. It's going to help us continue to grow."

The Circulator costs the city about $14 million a year and serves more than 4 million people. It's run a deficit since it launched in January 2010.

Rawlings-Blake said her transportation director is researching how to shore up the Circulator's long-term finances, but she felt the service was so important to the public she wanted to move forward with the extension.

She also reaffirmed her position that the Circulator should remain free for riders.

"The benefit of the Charm City Circulator is that is it is a free, convenient service paid for mostly by parking tax revenues, so people are paying in a sense," Rawlings-Blake said.

The Purple Route, the Circulator's most popular line, now runs from Federal Hill to Penn Station to Hopkins' Homewood campus.

The buses will run systemwide between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 7 a.m. to midnight on Fridays. Service starts at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It runs until midnight on Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday. The Harbor Connector runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday.

The mayor announced in July that she decided to continue the Banner Route — which runs from Locust Point to the Inner Harbor — reversing earlier plans to cut that leg of the service.

On Tuesday, she said it was too soon to talk about additional extensions.

"We're focused on making this route sustainable and maintaining the routes that we have before we're going to talk about extensions," she said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke pushed for the expansion for years beginning with the death of Stephen Pitcairn, a 23-year-old Hopkins research assistant who was fatally stabbed in 2010 for his cellphone as he walked along the 2600 block of St. Paul St.

Clarke said the cost to run the Circulator should be considered an investment.

"It is a quality-of-life service that is widely used and appreciated by millions," Clarke said. "It contributes to our safety. It contributes to fewer cars on the road. It contributes to getting people to jobs."

Sandy Sparks, Charles Village Civic Association president, said the Circulator will help the neighborhood move toward the goal of many to reduce the number of cars that travel along its streets.

"This is a such a no-brainer," she said. "There's no question that it will be a success."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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