Howard bus service

A pedestrian walks by the regional transit agency bus at the Columbia Mall near Sears. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun / March 26, 2014)

The Laurel City Council approved an ordinance this week that makes the city part of the new Regional Transit Agency aimed at replacing nonprofit Central Maryland Regional Transit.

The council voted unanimously to join the new agency, spearheaded by Howard County government, making them the third government entity, behind Howard and Anne Arundel County, to leave CMRT for the new authority, which was announced by Howard County in March.

Forming the new agency and cutting ties with CMRT – an independent nonprofit that buses 2 million riders annually between Laurel, College Park, Columbia, Arundel Mills and Odenton, as well as other paratransit, regional commuter and Howard's local Howard Transit routes – is being touted by advocates as a cost saving measure that will cut out the middle man.

According to a Howard County news release, the new service will cut $2 million a year in costs for Howard and Anne Arundel Counties, which officials said can be used to improve the service.

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who supports the move, said the city has been aware of the county’s plans for awhile, and that the new agency is headed in the right direction.

“In the long run, it’s the best move for the city,” Moe said. “We want to service upgrades and more service in this area, and I think this is the best way to go.”

Moe said by becoming a part of RTA, the city can better collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions.

“We need to forget about boundaries,” he said. “We have to move people across boundary lines in this area we live in.”

City Council President Fred Smalls the change will not interrupt bus service in the city, which he said is a priority for him and the council. 

“We have worked very hard to ensure that however this moves forward, bus service in the city should not be interrupted,” he said. “There should be no issues.”

Despite the state legislature’s decision to withhold funding for the new system until a study is complete, Howard County plans to move forward with launching RTA on July 1. County spokesman David Nitkin has said riders on local bus services “will keep getting the best service possible,” even if it means the county has to temporarily pick up the slack.

According to John Powell Jr., the administrator for Howard County’s Office of Transportation, the new agency will streamline operations by allowing the municipalities to influence how the service is operated through an RTA Commission.

The commission, which will be made up of two representatives from each municipal entity that joins the agency, will effectively act as a de-facto Board of Directors.

On Monday, Moe appointed City Administrator Kristie Mills and former Laurel Mayor Robert DiPietro to serve as Laurel’s two representatives on the commission.

Baltimore Sun Reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this report.