As Baltimore Metro shutdown drags on, students frustrated by longer commutes

Since the state shut down Baltimore’s Metro system, Amirah Haney has had to take three buses to get to school every morning. The sixth-grader’s first period math class at Monarch Academy is already under way by the time she gets there — sometimes half an hour after the school’s starting bell.

“The bus takes a really long time,” said Amirah, who lives in the Park Heights area. Monarch, a public charter school in northeast Baltimore, is roughly six miles away.

The entire Baltimore Metro system is now in its second week of a total shutdown.The Maryland Transit Administration announced Feb. 11 that sections of track needed emergency repairs, prompting up to four weeks of closure. This means delays for the city’s young commuters who have to add more time to the beginning and end of their school day.

Although Gov. Larry Hogan dedicated $2.2 million to run free buses along the subway’s route in addition to the regular MTA buses, some of the 6,000 students who rely on the Metro system weekly said they are frustrated by longer daily commutes and less reliable options. At Metro’s Mondawmin station Tuesday morning, Amirah was among a throng of classmates waiting for a bus at 7:30. She’d already taken one bus that morning, but had another two to go before she arrived at school.

Her mother isn’t happy that it takes Amirah, 11, more than an hour each way to get to and from school. When the Metro is functional, it takes about half as long.

“You can depend on the subway,” said Tosha Matthews, 37. “They should have shuttles coming closer together and running a lot more often.”

Many students, including 17-year-old Ariel Wilson, said their daily commutes have more than doubled since the shutdown began. Ariel also misses chunks of her first-period class because of what she describes as inconsistent transit.

“We’ve had to find different routes to get to school,” she said. “It’s been harder.”

The school district has publicized information about the subway closure on social media, encouraging students to check the supplementary shuttle routes.

The free shuttle buses, dubbed the “bus bridge” by the MTA, begin at 5 a.m. and run until midnight on weekdays, and from 6 a.m. until midnight on weekends. The MTA says they run about every 20 minutes along the Metro route.

There is also an “express bus bridge” making stops at Owings Mills, Milford Mill, Mondawmin, State Center, Charles Center and Johns Hopkins stations during peak weekday hours. The MTA stationed “transit ambassadors” at busy Metro stations to help customers find the best routes to their destinations.

Tranae Gross, 16, said these additional buses are often packed, meaning she has to wait at Mondawmin longer for the next one.

Frederick Douglass High School teacher Jesse Schneiderman said MTA should have done more outreach in schools.

“They needed to come to us,” he said. “They should have come into schools and put up posters in the buildings. They should have been proactive.”

MTA spokesman Paul Shepard said the agency reached out to Baltimore schools officials and shared copies of press releases about alternative transit routes.

“We also posted this information on our website and social media platforms,” he wrote in an email. “In addition, we extended the hours of operation for our call center to better assist students and their parents with planning their commutes using other transit modes like our local bus service.”

Schneiderman said that during the shutdown’s first week, more kids than usual were absent or late to school. Attendance seems to have normalized now, he said.

City schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said that “if there has been any impact on attendance districtwide, it has been minimal.”

Aisha McRae, 31, said she’s frustrated that her daughter is stuck with such a long commute for the next few weeks. She said officials should have dealt with Metro’s rail problems long before they got so dire.

The MTA has acknowledged it knew for more than a year that the city’s Metro rails violated safety standards, though the emergency shutdown came with less than a day’s notice.

Schneiderman said the Metro closure represents just another hurdle Baltimore’s children have to overcome to obtain a quality education.

Across town, adult commuters were faring and feeling no better than the students.

Deborah Johnson stood waiting to board the free shuttle bus on Monument Street. She works in the state office building and said many of her coworkers who usually take the Metro have been driving in or leaving earlier. Tuesday was her first time taking the shuttle; she usually carpools with a friend.

“The seats are comfortable; that was a plus,” she said. “But it seemed like forever compared to the subway.”

Pamela Martin sat at a bus stop on North Broadway outside Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she works in the emergency room. She said she’s been late for work because of the shutdown and so have several of her coworkers. “It’s nerve-wracking,” she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad