Charm City Circulator service is limited as Baltimore transitions to new vendor

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All four routes on the Charm City Circulator are running on a limited schedule as Baltimore transitions to a new vendor that is still hiring drivers and training staff.

Circulator services were disrupted since Dec. 30 and was halted for 10 days for the contractor transition, fleet inspections and emergency maintenance that the Baltimore Department of Transportation says is necessary to resume service in the new year.


Limited service on the free shuttle bus started Sunday with one bus on each route running every hour or 40 minutes. The delay was reduced to half-hour schedules Tuesday.

The Department of Transportation, which did not respond to a request for comment, wrote on social media that the agency still needs to hire 15 bus drivers and upgrade bus cameras and GPS tracking technology before service returns to normal operations.


It is unclear when that will happen.

About 30 drivers have been hired for the 24-bus Circulator fleet.

The Circulator travels through Central Baltimore on four routes: The Green Route runs from City Hall to Fells Point to the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus, the Purple Route runs from 33rd Street to Federal Hill, the Orange Route runs from Hollins Market to Harbor East, and the Banner Route runs from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry.

In a 2021 survey conducted by the DOT, nearly 43% of the Charm City Circulator Community Survey respondents said they depend on the services when traveling between their homes and jobs. More than 3,000 riders use the Circulator daily as of April 2022, with the Purple Route being the most popular (used by 1,500 daily riders), according to the DOT.

Buses came four or five times an hour when Danielle Sweeney first started taking the Purple Route from her Belvedere office to her Riverside home. At its inception, the Circulator ran so frequently that it adopted the tagline “Fast, friendly and free.”

But driver shortages and changes in management have transformed the Circulator from a convenient and reliable service into one that can leave people stranded, Sweeney said. As First Transit prepares to take over, the Circulator’s canceled and limited service has led riders like Sweeney to take MTA buses that require a ticket.

“There’s a new contract, I get that, but riders expected a smoother transition. And I think they expected to be informed ahead of time instead of finding out kind of last minute,” she said. Sweeney is also an organizer for the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transportation policy organization.

The Purple Route runs from 33rd Street to Federal Hill.

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Baltimore hired First Transit, an Ohio-based transit provider, to take over the Circulator since Jan. 1. The free shuttle bus was previously managed by Rockville-based limousine and coach bus company RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation, which ran the system for four years after Baltimore sued the previous operator, Transdev.


Transdev, a French transportation company, purchased First Transit in October. The Board of Estimates unanimously approved a five-year, $42.8 million contract with First Transit the same month.

Baltimore alleged in 2018 that Transdev overbilled the city $20 million for thousands of hours it operated the free bus service. The city claimed those hours were not actually worked. A Baltimore judge dismissed the lawsuit in favor of Transdev and sent the contract dispute to arbitration.

RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation took over operations on an emergency contract after the city sued Transdev, which led to a shortage of buses.

First Transit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.