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March was a no-go: Air, transit, highway travel in Maryland plunged due to the coronavirus

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Marylanders appear to be staying home, after all.

The state saw sharp drops last month in every travel metric amid the global coronavirus pandemic — an indication many are heeding Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order and canceling or postponing nonessential flights, transit rides, highway drives and other trips, state transportation officials say.

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Here’s how COVID-19 is affecting Maryland’s various modes of transportation:

Air travel

The state won’t receive total passenger numbers from airlines for at least a month, but the number of departing passengers screened at BWI Marshall Airport by the Transportation Security Administration dropped by more than half in March, officials said.

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The 403,556 departing passengers screened at Baltimore-Washington International last month represented a nearly 54% drop from March 2019, according to TSA data.

The passenger totals from the first day and last day of the month, respectively, paint a portrait of an airport growing increasingly quiet as more people began to grasp the seriousness of the situation and stay home.

The number of passengers Sunday, March 1 was up slightly — 2.8% — from the first Sunday of the month a year earlier. By the last day of the month, passenger volumes had dropped nearly 93% from the previous year, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

BWI’s numbers mirrored a national drop in air travel. TSA screened just over 35 million passengers nationwide last month, down more than 51% from the same month in 2019.

Those numbers have continued to plummet. Fewer than a million people across the U.S. boarded planes Sunday — a new low and a 96% decrease from the same Sunday a year ago, the TSA said.

Bridges and tunnels

The average daily traffic by week at Maryland’s bridges and tunnels followed a similar trajectory, with a small bump at the beginning of the month, followed by significant drop later in March, officials said.

The first week saw a 3% increase in traffic at the state’s bridges and tunnels from the same week in 2019. By the second week, daily traffic had dropped 7% from the same month a year earlier. The third week, traffic was nearly 30% lower than usual. By the fourth week, average daily traffic was down 47% from the same week in 2019.

The figures provided by the state, based on toll transaction counts, do not include the Intercounty Connector (ICC/Maryland Route 200) or the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway express lane tolls.

MTA buses, Baltimore Metro subway, light rail, MARC train

By the last week of March, after reductions in transit service, the Maryland Transit Administration’s total ridership had dropped 62% — to less than 700,000 riders from an average of more than 1.8 million in the same week in 2019, officials said.

The MARC train, which usually carries commuters daily between Baltimore and Washington, is running less frequently to slow the spread of the coronavirus and has seen a 94% drop in ridership as of the last week in March.

With the governor asking people to use transit only for essential travel, the MTA’s commuter buses saw a 91% drop, followed by drops in ridership on the light rail (85%), MTA Mobility (76%), Baltimore Metro Subway (75%) and core bus service (51%), according to the state transportation department.

The state has reduced bus service on 11 routes that were experiencing an 82% decline in ridership. The commuter bus is operating on an "S" schedule, and the light rail and Metro Subway are operating on reduced Saturday schedules on weekdays.

The reductions in transit service are intended to focus resources “on essential travel only during the COVID-19 emergency to protect employees, customers and the community," the state said.

The Port of Baltimore

The Port of Baltimore’s monthly cargo data for March is not yet available, but February saw a slight dip in the number of vessels and barges calling the port, according to state data.

The 113 vessels and barges that docked in Baltimore represented about a 6.6% drop from February 2019, officials said.

General cargo was down 4.4% in January and February, compared with the first two months of 2019.

Motor Vehicle Administration

Maryland shifted its Motor Vehicle Administration to appointments-only in mid-March, limiting hours and ultimately closing all offices March 21.

But the state agency still served 194,000 customers in person — a 37% decrease, according to state data.

The figures do not include self-service kiosk, online or mail-in transactions, which continue to be processed during the closure of MVA offices, the state said.

State highways

Maryland estimates its highway traffic volumes by using more than 50 automated traffic counters on interstate and U.S. routes and key arterial roads around the state.

The State Highway Administration’s weekly traffic estimates in March closely mirrored the traffic volumes seen at Maryland’s bridges and tunnels — a 3.2% year-over-year increase the first week, followed by a sharp downturn from normal over the following three weeks.

The second week saw a 5.4% decrease in average traffic volume, which dipped further to 26.8% the third week and ended the month down 44.5% in the last week, officials said.

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