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Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous rides bus system in Baltimore, declares it 'broken'

Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous boarded a Maryland Transit Administration bus in downtown Baltimore Friday to prove a point. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous boarded a Maryland Transit Administration bus Friday in downtown Baltimore to prove a point.

Joined by City Councilman Brandon Scott and local union leaders, Jealous declared the state-run bus system that serves Baltimore to be “broken” and said Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has “set us back.”

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As Jealous made his way through the crowded bus, some riders broke out in angry condemnations of the transit system. In congested morning traffic, it took about 20 minutes for the bus to travel six city blocks.

“Who messed this system up?” one rider, Vondia Brooks, 56, of Rosedale shouted toward the front of the bus.

“Hogan did,” responded David McClure, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300, who boarded the bus with Jealous.

“It’s a total mess,” Brooks said. “It makes you not even want to ride the bus. Hogan got this a mess.”

Baltimore’s public transit system has long been decried as deeply inadequate compared to cities such as Washington and New York, and Jealous is looking to seize on bus rider dissatisfaction.

Last month, an analysis by a rider advocacy group said that BaltimoreLink, Hogan’s overhaul of the Maryland Transit Administration regional bus system, has fallen short of delivering the “transformational” transit he promised.

The route redesign gave slightly more residents access to high-frequency transit and high-opportunity jobs, but buses do not come as often as the MTA reports and overall access to jobs dropped slightly, according to the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance report.

Several riders told Jealous Friday that the changes to the routes had made their commutes longer and caused them to change buses more frequently.

“Our public transportation system should get faster and simpler, not slower and more complex,” Jealous said after. “If you listen to riders, they say, ‘Please just go back to what we had before Hogan. That would be an improvement.’ ”

Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, also praised the transportation plan released during the primary campaign by candidate Jim Shea and Scott, who was Shea’s running mate. Jealous said he planned to adopt much of it.

“They had the best plan for transportation,” he said. “It is inspiration for what we will roll out.”

Shea’s plan called for creating a “state-wide transportation vision” to make an “integrated” system throughout Maryland; reviving the planned $2.9 billion Red Line light rail through Baltimore; investing more heavily in rural infrastructure; and pushing for stronger accountability standards.

In 2015, Hogan killed the Red Line project, which had $900 million in federal funding, calling it a "wasteful boondoggle."

Last June, the governor implemented the $135 million BaltimoreLink route overhaul, a complete redesign that state officials said would better connect people to jobs, entertainment and other modes of transit.

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Scott Sloofman, spokesman for the Hogan campaign, said the ideas Jealous has offered so far would worsen congestion.

"We’re surprised Ben Jealous’ transportation plan doesn’t come with a free subscription to satellite radio for every commuter because Marylanders will be spending even more time stuck in traffic,” Sloofman said in an email. “Jealous would scrap Governor Hogan’s plan to widen our most congested highways, and he would revive the road kill bill that would end the transparent system for transportation projects and instead put lobbyists and special interests in charge of deciding where to build roads. Even in today's cynical political world, cribbing your transportation plan from another failed gubernatorial candidate is pretty pathetic."

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