The seasonal bus service changes proposed by the Maryland Transit Administration represent a loss of 183 bus runs and 3,350 miles per week — a 2 percent cut to the overall service, according to a report released Tuesday by a local rider advocacy group.
The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance studied the changes, which include adding a new route to TradePoint Atlantic in the old Sparrows Point area, removing three underused routes and adjusting more than a dozen other routes and service times.
The group said the changes amount to the state pulling resources from the city, just five months after Gov. Larry Hogan’s $135 million BaltimoreLink overhaul of the region’s bus routes.
Brian O’Malley, president of the transportation alliance, quoted the governor’s June proclamation that the route redesign “signifies the state’s long-term commitment to the future of this city.”
“It hasn’t even been six months and we’re already seeing MTA propose this cut in bus service,” O’Malley said. “I’m concerned that the ‘long-term commitment’ is already waning.”
Kevin Quinn, administrator of the MTA, called that analysis “simplistic and a bit naive.”
The proposed changes remove ExpressLink 102 between Towson and White Marsh, ExpressLink 106 between Owings Mills and Towson, and ExpressLink 107 between the Old Court Metro station and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Catonsville. The agency held a set of public meetings on the changes, which are set to take effect Feb. 4.
In its announcement, the MTA said each of the routes “has very low ridership and is not cost-effective.”
“It’s hard to call it a reduction in service when it’s not serving anybody,” Quinn said. “The majority of the cuts referenced in the press release are three Express buses that nobody is riding.”
Quinn said O’Malley had complimented the state agency’s use of data to determine the most effective bus routes at a recent City Council meeting, and he said he was surprised by the alliance’s criticism of a removal of low-ridership routes.
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“Would they prefer we keep a static system where nothing changed?” he asked.
The alliance also criticized reductions in the frequency of the LocalLink 26 and 30 routes, and a two-mile shortening of the high-frequency CityLink Green.
Under the changes, the Green, a high-frequency route between Northeast Baltimore and the West Baltimore MARC station, would end downtown instead. The LocalLink 78 from Woodlawn would cover the ensuing service gap by extending farther east — a move that also helps remedy a top complaint among west-side riders by allowing some of them to get downtown without a transfer, according to Quinn.
Quinn rejected the questioning of the state’s commitment to its newly launched bus system. He noted the 5.5 miles of designated bus lanes, $11 million in traffic light sensors that extend green lights for buses, the replacement of nearly 5,000 bus stop signs and the renovation of the West Baltimore MARC Station, which all came in the last year with the introduction of BaltimoreLink.
“As part of BaltimoreLink, the state has made historic investments in transit infrastructure in the city,” he said. “We are clearly showing a commitment to transit and dedication to public outreach and making adjustments based on data.”
The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance gave the region a “D” on its recent Transportation Report Card, which evaluated a dozen indicators of quality and effectiveness. It gave the region an “F” on four of the metrics: jobs access by transit, disposable income, disconnected communities and air pollution.
“We believe overall service cuts are taking us in the wrong direction and that MTA should have the resources it needs to provide the kind of service that riders expect and deserve,” the transportation alliance said in a statement.