Missing the bus

The opening of a trans-Susquehanna bus service linking Aberdeen and Havre de Grace in Harford County with Perryville in Cecil County no doubt comes as welcome news to people on both sides of the river who depend on public transportation and taxicab service.

The three communities have substantial numbers of people who fall into this category, and the location of the Perry Point VA Medical Center on the Cecil County side of the divide makes it worth pondering why no cross river link was established years ago.

Still, better late than never.

The latest opening of a new bus line – the Harford-Cecil link goes by the name of the Teal Line – is kind of a natural point to step back and take a look at the public transportation scene in Harford and Cecil counties.

The Harford Transit system provides service from a little after 6 each morning to a little after 6 each evening, making it at least theoretically possible for someone working a 9-5 job to make use of the system. In reality, though, the public transportation system in Harford County is a tough sell to anyone who can afford a car. It just isn't convenient.

Then there's the MARC commuter rail system that links Perryville, Aberdeen and Edgewood to Baltimore and points south as far as Washington, D.C. This service is a downtown train in the morning and a homeward bound train in the evening and specifically geared to commuters. As a result, it does get used, but again, the system isn't really convenient for anyone else. It would be hard, for example, to plan a shopping excursion to Baltimore or Washington, D.C. based on taking the train, even as such excursions would be possible from, say, Long Island to New York City or suburban Atlanta to downtown.

It's hard to be critical of the people who manage the Harford County public transportation systems. They are, after all, doing essentially the same thing that is done across the country. Public transportation is a very low public policy priority compared to highway improvement and expansion. It kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who can avoid public transportation do, so it isn't seen as worth funding, so it becomes unreliable, so people who can avoid it do…and so on.

The transit link between Harford and Cecil counties is most assuredly a small step in the right direction. That it has taken until 2012 for such a service to be established, however, shows just what a low priority public transportation is in Harford County.

When the prospect of giving kids bus fare to get from, say, Churchville to Harford Mall or Bel Air to the theater at Campus Hills becomes something other than unthinkable or laughable, then public transportation managers in Harford County will have accomplished something.

Unfortunately, they've got relatively little to work with, and that will probably be the case as long as we don't think to send our kids to the movies by bus.

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