How did I manage to become a car-less UMBC student with three jobs in three different cities? My adventures on the MARC, 35, 77, Charm City Circulator, and Light Rail give me ample time to mull over that question. 45 minutes from D.C., 15 minutes from Baltimore, and 5 miles from BWI sounds great if you've got a car, but if you're a car-less college kid living on and around UMBC's campus, getting there can be quite the mission. Don't let that discourage you from checking out all that Charm City has to offer, though, because it is possible, even if you have to plan on adding at least 30 minutes of cushion time to your commute.
The most direct way to the city from UMBC would be the Route 35 UMBC bus. I have a love, hate, frustration-filled relationship with the 35. Although the 35 is the most direct way to get into Baltimore City, it's kind of like a wild stallion that does whatever it wants. Sometimes it's early, sometimes it's ridiculously late, and sometime it seems like it just decides to skip entire runs. It can turn the 15-minute drive from campus to the city into a lurching 30-60 minute ride. And remember to take the correct bus on your return trip from the city. The 35 to Blind Industries might get you close to campus, but unless you're looking to do some extra walking, look out for the 35 that says UMBC.
The next option for your trip into the city would be the 77 plus the Light Rail. The 77 comes to UMBC's campus more frequently than the 35. You might often see three or four pass by as you wait for the 35. It can get you to the Patapsco Light Rail station in about 15 minutes, where you might end up waiting even longer for the train to come. So if you have to be somewhere at a specific time, check the Light Rail times to figure out which bus/train combo works for you. Two great tools if you plan on making a few transfers are MTA Trip Planner and the public transportation feature of Google Maps.
The campus shuttles are another option. They vary in reliability, but two of them can get you to MARC train station stops. The MARC train is more expensive than the bus, but if I've got an interview or need to be somewhere at a specific time, taking the MARC is worth the extra dollars. From Halethorpe or BWI to Penn Station, it costs $4, and from Halethorpe or BWI to Washington D.C.'s Union Station, it's $6. The Halethorpe station is closer to campus, and the blue Halethorpe shuttle can get you there, but the BWI shuttle from campus is usually the most reliable because it's consistently on time.
If you're planning on going to the city frequently but not enough to want to drop cash on a weekly or monthly pass, opt for a CharmCard. You can purchase them at some transit stations or online. You load 'em up with cash at any station or fare box where the logo is displayed and you're ready to go. I like them because you can use them in several places throughout the DMV, including Prince George's County, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, Washington, D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and of course, Baltimore.
The MTA system isn't the most convenient or dependable public transportation system that I've encountered. But with the MARC, 35, 77, Charm City Circulator, and Light Rail, it gives you a few options to get to and around Baltimore City. If you're car-less and need to go somewhere, MTA'll get you there eventually, and you'll probably have some good stories to tell when you do.