Union representing bus drivers seeks influence on BaltimoreLink plans

Baltimore's bus drivers and mechanics speak out on the best way to fix the city's transit system

The city's transit workers union says that when it comes to redesigning Baltimore's bus routes, input is needed from a group of people intimately familiar with the transportation system — the drivers.

So on Saturday, the union offered it.

A 67-page report, "A People's Alternative to BaltermoreLink," calls for the construction of a bus rapid transit system along 14 miles of area streets. It was drafted by Walter Hook, vice president of BRT Planning International.

"My members are the experts," David McClure, president of Local 1300 of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union, said at a meeting at the organization's Remington headquarters. "They know what causes bus delays, how many people get on and off at certain stops.

"We figure that if we're going to get BaltimoreLink one way or the other, we wanted to make it the best plan we can get," McClure said.

Union members say their $287 million proposal represents an improvement over the $135 million BaltimoreLink proposal unveiled last year by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan's plan was an attempt to improve Baltimore's bus system and fill the mass transit void caused by the cancellation of the Red Line light rail project.

In the past 11 months, Hogan's proposal has gone through revisions in response to suggestions made at public hearings. The period for public comment ends Friday; BaltimoreLink is expected to go into effect in June.

Some city leaders, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke have criticized Hogan's proposal as inefficient and underfunded. It will do nothing, they say, to help residents of the city's poorest neighborhoods on the city's east and west sides.

The plan proposed Saturday seeks to address what Todd Brogan, a field mobilization specialist with the union, describes as the most serious cause of delays — not heavy traffic, but the long time it takes to board a bus and pay for the fare.

"If we can fix the core problems on the biggest routes, it will have a cascading effect down the road," he said.

Highlights of the union proposal include establishing special bus stations along heavily traveled routes such as Eutaw Place, North Avenue, Fayette Street and Broadway where riders would purchase fares in advance. The report estimates this could greatly reduce the average passenger boarding times.

Other proposals call for buying buses with multiple entrance doors, including some on both sides of the vehicle to allow more passengers to enter at once; creating bus-only lanes inside the broad medians; and barring cars from turning left on some downtown streets to facilitate bus flow.

A spokesman for the governor could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Rose Artis, a Baltimore bus driver for nearly 17 years, is in favor of any plan that could speed up the boarding process.

"It's an interesting idea," she said. "There would have to be a lot of changes to BaltimoreLink to make it effective. If everybody was required to pay in advance, that would reduce a lot of the delays."

McClure said his group hopes to explain their plan to top transit administrators and, eventually, to Hogan.

In the meantime, the union plans to hold rallies and circulate petitions to try to generate public pressure on state officials. If they get enough signatures, Brogan said, perhaps Hogan will agree.

"We think that if he hears from enough voters, he'll do what he needs to do to stay governor," he said.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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