Baltimore to launch second Circulator line

After months of delays caused by problems in the delivery of buses, Baltimore will launch the second of three planned lines for its free Charm City Circulator shuttle service Monday.

The new north-south Purple Route will run downtown from Ostend Street in South Baltimore to Penn Station, operating at 10-minute intervals.

The line will intersect at Pratt and Lombard streets with the circulator's east-west Orange Route, which began service between Harbor East and the Hollins Market in January.

Barry Robinson, chief of transit and marine services for the city's Department of Transportation, said ridership on the Orange Route has surpassed expectations, carrying an estimated 2,000 riders a day — or roughly 220,000 since its inception. He said the city expects the Purple Route to attract even more riders.

The new route is the second of three free bus lines expected to be operated under the Charm City Circulator brand. City officials expect to launch a Green Route — serving Johns Hopkins Hospital, Fells Point, Harbor East and City Hall – before the end of the year.

The city had expected to launch the Purple Route late last year but has been slowed by delays in the delivery of buses by the manufacturer, DesignLine Corp., Robinson said.

The circulator service is operated by Veolia Transportation under a contract with the city. Robinson said it is 85 percent to 90 percent financed by the city's parking tax, which was raised to provide a dedicated source of funding for the bus system.

"The good thing about this is, it's a transportation tax to support a transportation initiative," Robinson said. He said the tax, which is primarily paid by nonresidents, is "the closest thing to a commuter tax without being a commuter tax."

Robinson said the Orange Route has been popular with commuters and tourists as well as city residents.

The buses are powered primarily by an electric battery supplemented by a small diesel engine. Robinson described the vehicles as a "golf cart on steroids."

The service will begin Monday after a 10 a.m. news conference at the Cross Street Market, one of the shuttle's stops in Federal Hill.

North of Redwood Street, it will operate primarily on North Charles and St. Paul streets. South of Redwood it will run on Light Street and South Charles. Stops include the Washington Monument, the Inner Harbor, the Maryland Science Center and the Federal Hill neighborhood.

From April through October, the service begins at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. It operates until 9 p.m. except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it continues until midnight. During winter, service ends at 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

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