The Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland and Maryland Transit Administration hosted the second of four public meetings Wednesday night about the upcoming transit development plan, meant to upgrade the public transit system in Howard, Anne Arundel and parts of Prince George's counties.
The plan aims to address residents' woes about issues such as lengthy wait times for service and indirect routes. RTA and MTA gathered public input about problems facing the system back in 2016, and the plan discussed on Wednesday implements solutions to the top identified problems.
Some of the changes residents said they most wanted included increased weekend service and more frequent bus service throughout the day.
Changes to the system will be made in two phases over the next five years. Phase one of the plan includes redrawing routes to cut down the time it takes to reach major locations, such as Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital, and increasing service throughout the day.
Rerouting several of the bus lines is set to happen over the next two years, according to Howard County Transit Service Planner Kathleen Donodeo. She said one of the first lines to be redrawn will be the 405 route, which begins at the Mall at Columbia and services Dorsey's Search Village Center, Long Gate, Ellicott City, Normandy Shopping Center, Walmart and Miller Branch library/Ellicott City Senior Center. The plan is to split the route into two lines to service the northern and southern areas.
The second phase includes adding expansion routes to four key areas in the county: Maple Lawn, Clarksville, Turf Valley and a route between Long Reach and Elkridge, Donodeo said.
Following the public input meetings, transit officials will write the final draft of the plan in October with the hope of putting it before the Howard County Council for approval by the end of the year, Donodeo said. However, the council's approval of the plan does not guarantee that it will be funded, and Donodeo told attendees at Wednesday's meeting to express their support for the plan to help ensure it is included in next year's county budget.
Donodeo said each county is responsible for paying for their portion of the development plan.
"We can plan all we want, but if it doesn't get paid for it doesn't happen," she said. "Each county needs to pay for its piece of the puzzle."
Columbia resident Janene Giffin was at last night's meeting and said she was most concerned about increasing bus reliability, complaining that she's been stuck waiting two hours for a bus when one simply never shows up. She said this is particularly a problem for those in the county who rely on the bus to get to work, and that unreliable service "reinforces a culture of poverty" when it impacts people's ability to do their jobs.
"It keeps people stuck," Giffin said during the meeting.
Eighty-five percent of riders do not own their own car, and almost half of them make $20,000 or less annually, according to a 2017 transit report.
The third public meeting for the plan will be held Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.