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North Baltimore group criticizes MTA bus system overhaul plans, says new routes would create 'transit deserts'

North Baltimore group criticizes MTA bus system overhaul plans, says new routes would create 'transit deserts'
Yvonne Mathews, 67, an executive assistant at Maryland Legal Aid who lives in Abell, said the proposed MTA bus route cancellations will leave her without a way to get to work. (Colin Campbell)

A group of North Baltimore residents criticized the state's plan to overhaul the city's maligned bus system Tuesday, saying the current routes are "much more customer-friendly" than the new ones, which they warned would create "transit deserts" in poor communities.

The $135 million overhaul proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan correctly identifies problems of bus frequency and reliability, the group said in a 14-page report, but would sacrifice access to the buses by consolidating routes.

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The Maryland Transit Administration plans to replace the current bus system with a color-coded network of 12 high-frequency routes between Metro SubwayLink, Light RailLink, MARC train, commuter bus, Amtrak and other services.

The agency said Tuesday evening that it plans to release a revised route plan next week.

"Since the original plan was unveiled, 86 percent of the bus routes have been modified or adjusted in some way — thanks in large part to the comments we received from our initial 67 public outreach workshops, briefings and stakeholder meetings," the agency said in a statement. "It is important to note that the MTA continues to encourage public discourse on BaltimoreLink and looks forward to having more dialogue regarding route modifications at our upcoming series of 20 public meetings."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke organized the 14th Council District BaltimoreLink Work Group. She said the current plan would eliminate critical routes that connect low-income workers to jobs, medical care and other basic necessities, leaving those residents "cut off at the knees."

The changes would require residents to walk farther to catch a bus and make transfers rather than having a direct route downtown, Clarke said.

"We are much better off with what we have," she said.

Her group agreed.

"Indeed, if the BaltimoreLink proposals affecting the 14th Council District were the current system, the system we now have would be viewed as a solution to the problems of BaltimoreLink," the group's report said.

The new plan would eliminate five routes in the area and require additional transfers on another, the group said.

Plans to scrap the No. 8 route, which connects Lutherville to the University of Maryland Transit Center, and the No. 11, from Towson to the Convention Center downtown, were especially concerning, members said.

The elimination of the No. 27, from Reisterstown Plaza Metro Station to Port Covington, would cut off bus access to business areas in Hampden and Remington, they said.

BaltimoreLink would also disrupt the No. 3, from Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson to the Inner Harbor, by ending the route at East 39th Street, requiring two transfers to get downtown, they said.

Yvonne Mathews, 67, of the Abell neighborhood in North Baltimore, an executive assistant to the chief counsel at Maryland Legal Aid, said the elimination of the No. 8 route would cut her off from her downtown office.

"The proposal is going to stop the bus at 39th Street, so no bus will come here to take me to work at all," Mathews said.

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The group also wants bus tracking technology for riders, better funding for maintenance and driver hiring, better customer service and an end to the practice of pulling buses from one route to plug holes in another.

The current buses are packed with thousands of low-income residents who put up with an already unreliable system to get to work, Clarke said.

Ferdinand Latrobe, 76, of Tuscany-Canterbury in North Baltimore, said he has been riding the city's buses since the third grade.

"I use them all," Latrobe said. "You're taking a section of the city and you're eliminating all north-south travel through. Logically, that just doesn't make sense."

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