County Executive Ken Ulman created the county Office of Transportation to elevate transportation as a priority. On Monday, transportation administrator John Powell, who started work in April, told the County Council what he's done so far to accomplish that goal.
Powell listed several projects the office is spearheading, which include:
• Putting up new signs at all bus stops starting next month. The signs, which Powell said are brighter and easier to read, will include stop numbers that riders can use to look up from their phone or online how many minutes away the next bus is from their stop.
• Collapsing the Howard Transit website and the Central Maryland Regional Transit website into one site, which will be managed by CMRT. The website will feature a stop locater where riders can put in an address and find the closest stop to it. Powell said it will be about a month and a half before the new website goes live.
• Starting a project, announced nearly two years ago, to add three electric buses to the county's fleet with a kick-off meeting by the end of the month. The process, which involves contracting with a company to manufacture the buses and install the inductive charging system they use for power, is expected to take 14 to 16 months. Once the buses are up and running, they will operate on the green route and will charge at Howard Community College. The college's faculty and students will also be developing an information station that will track the energy and emissions the electric buses save.
• "Interlining" the red and brown routes of Howard Transit, so they both circulate around The Mall in Columbia. Currently, the red route operates on one side of the mall and the brown on the other, meaning riders sometimes either have to transfer lines or walk to get to the side of the mall where they want to be.
• Redesigning the bus route that goes through Wilde Lake Village Center, owned by Kimco Realty Corp., to fit with Kimco's redevelopment plan.
• Launching a "Be Fair, Pay Your Fare" advertising campaign on the buses to remind people to pay their fares. While most people pay, Powell said some do not pay the full amount. He said the focus has been ensuring the buses are on time, so bus drivers had been told not to make an issue out of fares.
• Updating Howard Transit's routes on Google Transit, a program that allows users to plan a trip using public transportation.
• Submitting a proposal, along with Neighbor Ride, a local nonprofit that provides transportation for seniors, to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council for grant money that would fund "Project EmpowerTrans," which would allow Howard County to find better ways to get low-income and unemployed persons to jobs. Powell said the county expects to hear whether its been awarded the grant within three to four weeks.
Council members expressed excitement about many of the projects, particularly those that would improve Howard Transit riders' experience.