Baltimore's spending panel on Wednesday approved a $130,000 study of the Charm City Circulator, the city's popular bus service that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she wants to remain free.
Rawlings-Blake said the study is needed to make the Circulator operations more effective and efficient.
"It's important for many reasons that we make sure this Circulator system remains free," she said. "But if it's to remain free, it doesn't mean that it should be fiscally unsound.
"The longevity of the program depends on us getting it right. It has to work within its budget."
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has called for a hearing on the Circulator operations, including whether the bus service should charge passengers $1 to ride. A hearing hasn't yet been scheduled.
More than 4 million people ride the Circulator each year, and some have called for the service to be expanded elsewhere in the city. The service, which debuted in 2010, costs $7 million to operate.
The city will pay $130,000 to Louis Berger Water Services Inc. to look at the service's stop locations, ridership, funding and possible route extensions. The study began this summer under an existing on-call contract with the company.