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MARC, commuter buses to resume full service in late August; some MTA fare increases go into effect next week

The Maryland Transit Administration’s commuter buses and MARC trains will resume full operations Aug. 30, after nine months of reduced service in response to lower ridership and fiscal losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, officials announced Monday.

Passengers returning to the restored services will pay higher fares: MARC and commuter bus ticket prices, which vary by the length of the trip, will increase by $1 as of Sunday, as required by the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, the MTA said.

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However, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he will use funding from the federal American Relief Plan Act, enacted by Congress in March, to delay fare increases for the MTA’s local buses as well as Light Rail, Metro subway and MTA Mobility paratransit rides for a year.

The fare for local bus, Light Rail and Metro subway were to increase to $2 per trip from $1.90, and the MTA Mobility fares were to rise to $2.20 from $2.10, but those increases will be delayed until June 27, 2022, the MTA said.

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Commuters board a Washington-bound MARC train in Halethorpe on a recent morning.
Commuters board a Washington-bound MARC train in Halethorpe on a recent morning. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Acting MTA chief Holly Arnold said she appreciated the governor’s “strategic use of ARPA funds to directly support our transit riders.”

“Transit is a critical connector of jobs, schools, medical services and amenities, and this fare increase deferral will provide much-needed economic relief, especially to our transit-dependent riders,” she said.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the 2013 transportation infrastructure law, which raised the gas tax and other revenues to pay for the Red Line light rail through Baltimore, which Hogan canceled shortly after taking office in 2015, and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, for which the state has agreed to pay $250 million to settle disputes that arose with the construction contractor.

The law mandates that fares for core services must be reviewed every two years and increase a minimum of 10 cents, based on the rising consumer price index. Fares for core services were last increased in 2019, the MTA said.

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MARC and commuter bus fares, by comparison, must be reviewed every five years and increased to the nearest dollar when the consumer price index increases from the previous five years, according to the MTA. The MARC surcharge for trips originating or ending in West Virginia will not change.

Fares and schedules for each route can be found at mta.maryland.gov.

The last MARC and commuter bus fare review was 2015, and the fare increase scheduled for last year already was delayed under a COVID-19 executive order by the governor, the MTA said.

MARC riders returning to the service for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic will not be pleased to find higher fare prices for the same service, said Steve Chan, a daily Penn Line rider and chairman of the MARC Train Riders Advisory Council.

“But I would suspect they would, to a certain extent, understand,” Chan said. “We haven’t had a price increase for a year. ... The truth is, it is required by law, and it’s not unreasonable.”

Chan, who commutes daily to Washington for a job with the federal government, said he thinks restoring service in August, before many riders return full time, makes sense. Most federal employees are not expecting to be in the office daily until at least Labor Day, he said.

“It allows [the MTA] to work out the kinks before there are more passengers,” he said. “If there are any problems with equipment, maintenance or scheduling, it allows them to work it out before the passenger load really increases.”

The MTA initially planned to slash local bus service to make up for pandemic revenue losses, but officials reversed course following an outcry from Baltimore-area leaders, advocates and others. The state instead cut MARC and commuter bus service, which have seen deeper and more sustained drops in ridership.

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