The Maryland Transit Administration will launch a new route to the Tradepoint Atlantic development in Sparrows Point, discontinue three of its lowest-ridership commuter routes and modify more than a dozen other routes, service times and bus stops starting Sunday.
The agency also plans to spend roughly $1 million to outfit 500 buses with GPS devices to allow riders with smartphones to see exactly where the buses are, MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn said. It already has installed the devices on 250 buses as part of a pilot program.
“In today’s world of immediate information and social media, people want information about their buses as soon as they can have it,” he said. “With Uber and Lyft, you can see that vehicle move on the screen. You should be able to have it for buses.”
The MTA’s winter 2018 seasonal service adjustments take effect Sunday. The agency held 10 public hearings in November on the changes and amended some of its original proposals.
The new LocalLink 63 between Tradepoint Atlantic and Johns Hopkins Bayview, with select trips to downtown, is intended to connect people with one of the city’s newest employment sites, Quinn said.
“Tradepoint Atlantic is a growing jobs center with FedEx, Amazon, Under Armour,” he said. “We’re excited to get people to jobs in Sparrows Point.”
The MTA will remove the ExpressLink 102 between Towson and White Marsh, ExpressLink 106 between Owings Mills and Towson, and ExpressLink 107 between the Old Court Metro station and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Catonsville.
Some of the proposed reductions in service had drawn criticism from riders and the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a rider advocacy group, which claimed they undercut the high-frequency goals of Gov. Larry Hogan’s $135 million BaltimoreLink route overhaul in June.
After public feedback, the MTA decided to leave unchanged the LocalLink 21, 30, 31, 33, 54, 77, 82 and 85 routes.
The alliance was glad that the agency backed off changes that would’ve reduced the number of runs on those lines, said Eric Norton, the director of policy and programs.
“That’s encouraging,” he said.
Some of the high-frequency CityLink routes will be tweaked.
The CityLink Green, between Towson and the West Baltimore MARC station, will end downtown instead. The Blue route, between Bayview and Woodlawn, will be realigned to reach the MARC station. Early morning service will be added to the Purple route, between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Catonsville, and to the Gold route, between Walbrook Junction and Canton.
The LocalLink 78 from Woodlawn will bypass the West Baltimore MARC station, bringing west-side riders all the way downtown without a transfer, the MTA said. The changes will reduce service frequency on LocalLink routes 26, 28, 34 and 36, and add service on the 56 and 65 routes.
The CityLink routes are meeting the MTA’s high-frequency goals about 77 percent of the time, Quinn said. The LocalLink and ExpressLink buses are arriving on schedule about 67 percent of the time, he said.
Norton noted that the on-time performance figures provided by the agency have varied over the course of the past year. He said he hopes to see greater transparency from the agency in how they are measuring the reliability of the system.
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“We have to take their word for it, because the numbers have changed dramatically,” he said. “That’s hard to do for us as an advocacy organization.”
Norton praised the plan to add GPS to the buses.
“It should improve the real-time data we’re getting,” he said.
Quinn said the changes and the new GPS technology indicate that the agency is open to rider feedback and making adjustment’s based on ridership data.
“Whether with service changes or year-round, it’s a new MTA that is listening to our customers,” he said. “We’re making those changes that need to be made to have a more reliable system for our customers.”
The agency is making positive changes, but it needs more state investment to improve its services significantly, Norton said.
“The MTA is doing the best they can with the resources they have,” Norton said.