In his first day of public appearances as acting Maryland Transit Administration CEO on Monday, Kevin B. Quinn Jr. made the rounds in Baltimore, updating City Council members and the media on the progress of Gov. Larry Hogan's impending $135 million overhaul of the region's bus routes, which goes into effect Sunday.
The new routes, designed based on ridership trends and the needs of potential riders and employers, are intended to better connect where people live with where they go today, whether it's employment centers, shopping or entertainment destinations, or other transit.
At the downtown news conference, Quinn — who was appointed last week to head the agency, following the departure of former CEO Paul Comfort — held up a backpack containing a thick binder of turn-by-turn route directions that have been distributed to each bus driver. He described the monumental task of unveiling 5,000 new bus stop signs that will take place Saturday night and said the MTA's focus for the next six days will be public outreach.
"We're ready to go on June 18," he said. "It's about the operators knowing the routes they're going to be operating and the public, our riding public, knowing how those routes are going to change."
Hundreds of MTA route ambassadors will be dispatched to bus stops across the region to guide riders through the new system, Quinn said, which is built around 12 color-coded, high-frequency "CityLink" routes that travel through downtown Baltimore, and less frequent "LocalLink" routes radiating from them. About a dozen ExpressLink routes will offer weekday service for commuters.
The MTA is offering two weeks of free bus service to promote the new system and ensure riders aren't penalized if they get on the wrong bus.
Quinn said he has spent time visiting the MTA's divisions, talking to bus operators about the new routes and asking for their feedback. The MTA has included fliers in drivers' last two paychecks encouraging them to ask for additional training if they need it, he said.
"We want our operators to be as well prepared as possible for the launch of BaltimoreLink, and we believe that they're ready," he said.
The Maryland Department of Transportation, which oversees the MTA, gave no reason for the abrupt departure of Comfort and his chief of staff, Jim Knighton, less than two weeks before the launch.
Documents released Friday showed that Knighton authorized spending of more than $65,000 on remodeling Comfort's offices in Baltimore. The purchases were made without competitive bids as required under state law for purchases of more than $25,000. Officials would not say whether the purchases were related to Comfort and Knighton's departure.
Quinn, who had been leading BaltimoreLink as director of planning and programs, emphasized that his agency is prepared for the launch.
"We have been planning for BaltimoreLink for the last 18 months," he said. "We have a senior management team, we have operators, operations staff that have been preparing for this for quite some time. We're ready to go. We're ready for launch."