What is a family?
The question could stump a roomful of philosophers so consider the implications when a contingent of bureaucrats begin searching for the answer.
"We're going to have to come to terms with it," said Ronald J. Hartman, head of the state Mass Transit Administration, who has assigned a committee of four people to grapple with the issue. "It's a tough one."
MTA officials began debating the definition last week when discussing a much more practical concern: How to encourage families to ride mass transit instead of driving their cars to the new stadium at Camden Yards.
The main problem is one of dollars and sense. For a family to ride mass transit to the ballpark costs so many dollars that it doesn't make much sense.
Take the Maryland Rail Commuter system. It will cost Montgomery County residents about $7 or $8 each, one way, to ride the commuter trains to the new MARC station being built next to the stadium in downtown Baltimore.
That's not too bad for an individual going to a baseball game, but for a family of four, that amounts to $56 to $64 round-trip on MARC.
The same size family taking the city's subway, bus system or the new light-rail line will face round-trip fares of $13.60 or more. Game-day parking rates are expected to average around $4.50 near the stadium, and families may not be easily driven out of their cars.
Nevertheless, transportation experts expect as many as 14,000 cars to regularly show up at a ballpark with only 5,100 parking spaces but 47,000 seats. Even with the extra parking lots around the Inner Harbor, that won't always work.
"MARC is the one we really need to restructure," said Mr. Hartman. "With the others, it's optional. There's still a significant advantage of being whisked away at the end of a game instead of getting in your car and being stuck in traffic."
But, to set a family fare rate, you must first determine who will be eligible to receive it. Will it be granted only to people with the same surname? What about grandparents, single-parents, cohabitants, foster families, parents with adopted children or gay and lesbian couples?
The U.S. Department of Commerce defines families as households of two or more related by blood, marriage or adoption. The 1990 census found that 71 percent or 66 million of the country's 93 million households fit that definition.
The nuclear family -- households with a husband, wife and at least one child -- represented only 25 million households, or 26 percent, an all-time low percentage and down from 31 percent in 1980 and 40 percent in 1970.
In neighboring Washington, an $8 one-day family/tourist pass -- good for unlimited Metro and bus trips -- is available to any group of four, family or not.
MTA officials hope to resolve the issue in two weeks so that any new family fare may be promoted for opening day of the Orioles' season. They also are negotiating with club management about the possibility of a combined ticket-MARC fare package.
A snag to any discounts is a state law requiring mass transit to recover at least 50 percent of its operating costs from the fare box. MTA doesn't want regular commuters to subsidize baseball fans.
ZTC Mr. Hartman's "family" committee already has offered one possible solution to the whole dilemma -- give children under age 12 a free ride. Currently, only children under 6 ride free on all forms of mass transit all the time.