The 27-year-old blue-and-white bus was headed for the scrap metal barn before Anne Arundel Community College and the Mass Transit Administration pooled their resources to give it a new purpose.

Bus No. 2035, among the first air-conditioned buses brought on line in 1963 to replace streetcars, now serves as one of the first education centers on wheels for assessing and teaching basic skills to MTA employees.

The Roads Scholar Program is made possible through a $43,481 grant to AACC from the United Way of Central Maryland to develop and implement a literacy workplace program. The community college is providing learning materials and an instructor.

Step aboard the bus, and instead of neat rows of seats, long Formica counters run along either side, holding six community college-donated IBM computers and two videodisc stations for measuring academic skill levels, problem-solving ability and job-related knowledge. Two study areas are also aboard.

The center's introduction this week is timed to help the MTA prepare its 1,500 bus drivers for licensing changes that may put some with low education levels in jeopardy.

Since January, changes in federal law require that bus drivers take lengthier and more involved written examinations and a more comprehensive skills test. Few of the drivers serving the metropolitan area have more than a high school diploma.

"We are trying to get to employees who may not have a high school education or who want to refresh their skills," said Bill Schneeman, manager of training for MTA.

More than 10 people were assessed yesterday, as the program kicked off at the Bush Division Building in Baltimore. Instruction begins next week, with Robert Urbanski, a community college continuing education instructor, beginning an 18-month leave to work full-time with the program, along with a part-time aide.

The bus, which is stationed in Baltimore but will travel to MTA locations throughout the metropolitan area, will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., to allow all 2,800 employees, on both morning and evening shifts, to take advantage of the program. It is free to MTA employees.

"We are very pleased and proud to join this effort spearheaded by the MTA," said Andrew Meyer, assistant dean of continuing education at AACC.

"Through the Roads Scholar Program, we want to help MTA equip its employees with the basic skills necessary to meet increasing job responsibilities and compete in an increasingly high-tech workplace."

The college is one of 21 agencies sharing $1.5 million from the United Way Problem Solving grant pool, which offers short-term funding for innovative projects and programs that address issues too complex for a single organization to solve.

Schneeman said money will be sought from the federal government and other agencies to continue the program after the grant expires and move the bus to all MTA locations. Fear of an increasingly competitive workplace and too-few employees qualified to fill slots is a driving force behind the pilot program.

"It is becoming very important that with the advances in technology and shrinking work force, employers have to be willing to make larger investments in employees," Schneeman said. "We want to help our people do jobs more efficiently."

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