Baltimore City plans to expand the Purple Route of the free Charm City Circulator bus line to University Parkway in north Baltimore, starting in fall 2014.
The north-south Purple Route currently runs between Federal Hill downtown and Penn Station. Plans now call for a 3.3-mile expansion that would bring the bus route to north of Charles Village, about a 22-minute ride from Penn Station. That would make the route 9.8 miles in all, said Barry Robinson, chief of the Transit and Marine Services Division of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.
The hours of operation would be the same as for the current Purple Route, Robinson said.
The news was welcomed by the Charles Village Civic Association, which took the lead in pushing for the expansion.
"We're happy it's happening, but we wish it had happened this year," said association member Sharon Guida.
That wasn't possible, Robinson told 50 residents at a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 19, to update the community on the Purple Route plans. He said the $750,000 needed to expand the route would have to come from the city's fiscal 2015 budget. The money comes from taxes on parking garages in the city. The city adjusted the tax in 2008 to fund the Circulator bus system, he said.
"This is our stealth commuter tax," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who attended the meeting.
Transportation officials at the meeting also said they wanted to wait until after the Charles Street Reconstruction project finishes. That project is on schedule and is expected to be done by fall 2014, officials said
"We just hope Charles Street Reconstruction gets done in time" to start the expanded Circulator service, Guida said.
"The argument can be made that we need it now (during Charles Street reconstruction) more than we need it when Charles Street reconstruction is done," Clarke said.
The Circulator bus service, operated by Veolia Transportation in a public-private partnership in an effort to bring more mass transit to the region, grew out of the city's old Downtown Area Shuttle, or DASH. In 2007, the city commissioned the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to study the feasibility of another downtown shuttle service, aimed at a market that drives downtown and doesn't often usually ride buses.
In 2010, the first of the Circulator routes launched, promoted as "Fast, Friendly, Frequent and Fare-Free," and the Orange and Purple Routes launched in 2010, followed by the Green Route.
There are now Orange, Green, Purple and Banner routes, plus the Harbor Connector, which launched in 2009. The colored routes run 10 minutes apart, according to the web site http://www.charmcitycirculator.com.
About 12 million people ride Circulator buses, far ahead of initial expectations, Robinson said.
The Purple Route originally was going to be expanded to 33rd Street, but many residents called for it to be expanded to University Parkway, Robinson said.
The expanded route is expected to serve the communities of Charles Village, Remington, Barclay and Old Goucher, and would eliminate the need to transfer to another bus at Penn Station when riding from downtown, he said.
The current route serves the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill, City Center and Historic Mount Vernon.
Stops proposed for the expanded route include Union Memorial Hospital, Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, the Baltimore Lab School and the Station North Arts District. However, transportation officials say they will decide where to put stops, benches and shelters based on input from business and community associations, to make sure "the stops we have in mind are what you need," Robinson said.
One resident at the meeting at Saints Philip and James Church, who would not give his name, worried that the expansion would make his neighborhood in the area of University Parkway "a park and ride lot," but Robinson said, "That's not something we've seen in any of the four routes we operate."
Ray Jenkins, 83, of Tuscany-Canterbury, asked transportation officials to consider expanding the Purple Route further, to Cold Spring Lane and Keswick roads.
"I'd like it to come to 39th Street," Jenkins said.
Clarke noted that Hampden community and business leaders are pursuing expansion of the route to their neighborhood. She told Jenkins, "If there's really interest, get organized and get into the competition."
For more information about the route, go to http://www.charmcitycirculator.com.