A group of Baltimore’s largest employers announced Monday that they’re starting a campaign to encourage Maryland’s elected officials to improve the city’s transportation system.
The Greater Baltimore Committee is partnering with the Greater Washington Partnership, which represents business leaders from Baltimore to Richmond, Virginia, this election year to advocate for expanding the city’s transit services as a way to make the region a stronger economic competitor compared to others.
And they want to see changes soon.
“This initiative will rally the region’s business community and other private sector employers to engage state and local elected officials, as well as candidates for public office, to fight harder for increased mass transit planning and funding to greatly improve Baltimore’s transit system,” said Sharon Schreiber, chief operating officer of the Greater Baltimore Committee, during a news conference.
The business leaders called Baltimore’s transportation system underdeveloped. Bus services are often delayed, new Metro and train stops are rarely added and the city is the slowest stretch of railroad on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, they said.
Joe McAndrew, vice president of the Greater Washington Partnership, pointed to an expected infusion of dollars for transportation projects as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to speed up the process of upgrading Baltimore’s bus, rail and subway routes.
As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Maryland will receive $1.7 billion to spend in five years on improvements to public transportation options across the state.
The federal funds for new public transit projects also provide an opportunity to address inequities in Baltimore’s transportation system — such as transit riders in lower-income minority neighborhoods facing longer commute times — by including communities in the planning, Schreiber said.
“Many communities, especially those in which the need is greatest, are often left behind when it comes to mass transit planning and access,” Schreiber said. “This is a critical moment for the region and its economic future,” she said, adding that voters should ask candidates and elected officials how they plan to accomplish mass transit projects.
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Unemployment is also relatively low in Maryland and in the United States, causing employers to compete for workers who may not have the ability to travel without public transportation. Among the Greater Baltimore Committee’s campaign goals is to make transit easier to access and more reliable so that people can commute to their workplaces.
“If we connect the economic centers of Richmond and DC and Baltimore, we can create a 21st-century transportation and infrastructure system. We can grow and attract and retain talent,” said Peter Scher, vice chair of JPMorgan Chase and co-founder of Greater Washington Partnership. “I don’t mean just attracting top talent from all over, but growing talent in areas in Baltimore that haven’t had the opportunity.”
The partnership offered six goals to fix Baltimore’s transportation issues but did not detail how its campaign, called Baltimore’s Transit Future, would accomplish them.
“We’re really talking today about why — not prescribing how,” Schreiber said.
The partnership expressed a short-term goal of creating more job opportunities by ending a shortage of MTA bus drivers in Baltimore and funding more bus repairs. The group wants to see a reliable bus service that comes every 15 minutes and has stops at regional job centers.
Long-term goals include reforming the structure of the Maryland Transit Administration to include more local oversight, implementing an east-to-west rapid transit plan for Baltimore, adding more railroad stations in the metropolitan region and providing faster and more frequent commuter MARC trains between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
“We want Baltimore to be connected, but the rest of the region also wants to be more connected to Baltimore,” Scher said.