Oh, the shame!
Imagine blithely purchasing a light rail ticket at the seniors' discounted price only to be berated later as a fake.
"It's very embarrassing," laments Lillian E. Pickens of Forest Hill, "to take guests to the Inner Harbor and then find the wrong tickets were purchased. The officer was very vocal in her reprimand."
Naturally Our Intrepidness cannot sit idly by while one of our loyal readers is harangued.
Consequently we sought a thorough explanation of the MTA's policies and procedures on discount fares from Dianna Rosborough, former director of communications for the Mass Transit Administration. (Ms. Rosborough will no longer be fielding questions from His Intrepidness but will answer to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has made her his press secretary. Apparently she preferred a Democrat to an AUTOcrat. Go figure.)
For senior citizens and people with disabilities, Ms. Rosborough said, the essential first step is to get your hands on an MTA photo identification card. These are available at the MTA's certification office at 300 West Lexington St., Mondays through Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. On Fridays and an occasional Saturday, a certification worker travels to area library branches and senior centers in response to requests for MTA discount cards.
To receive a seniors' discount card, you must provide proof that you are 65 or older.
Once you have the card, you can get discounts on the light rail, the metro and mass transit buses, although procedures are different with each one.
To ride the light rail, you purchase a ticket from the portion of the vending machine marked seniors' discount. You pay a base price of 45 cents rather than the normal $1.25. (On the train, you may be asked to show your card and ticket by someone conducting verifications.)
For the metro, you must purchase your ticket from an attendant at a booth rather than from one of the ticket machines.
And, if you are boarding a bus, merely flash the card to the driver, who will give you the discount.
Seniors and the disabled are not the only ones to receive discounts. Baltimore area students -- public, private and parochial -- also are eligible for discount cards through their schools. Those cards, however, can only be used for riding to and from school on school days during school hours. (Time is allowed for after-school activities, Ms. Rosborough said.)
Ms. Pickens suggested that riders could avoid uncomfortable situations such as hers if the MTA would provide better information about discount policies at its ticket stations. Because of similar complaints, Ms. Rosborough said MTA has posted signs above discount buttons at all 24 light rail stops.
"Valid MTA ID required," the signs say. "Avoid unsightly blushing," they might add.
Catching the wave isn't what it used to be
Other than finding the barely detectable auto-reverse button on the car cassette player, nothing gives the Intrepid Commuter a greater sense of satisfaction than hurtling along city streets -- top down, hair whipping in the breeze -- zipping through one green light after another. (Oh, that the Intrepid One had a convertible. Oh, that the Intrepid One still had hair.)
Our Intrepidness imagines the feeling is akin to a surfer riding a mammoth wave with the added benefit of never having to get wet.
Alas, though, some readers have complained that the days of uninterrupted sweeps through town seem to be going the way of the trolley car or the $6 movie ticket.
For instance, we give you Leonard Bers of Randallstown. "In the old days, years ago," Mr. Bers said, "we used to be able to travel the length of Calvert Street downtown without being stopped by a red light. I find that it's very difficult these days traveling more than one or two blocks without being stopped by a red light. I'm just wondering what the problem is and whether these lights could be possibly retimed."
Similarly, Henry Rey of South Baltimore complained that riding northbound on Hanover Street from the Hanover Street Bridge, "every traffic signal is red. Can't they be timed?"
We took these complaints to Vanessa Pyatt, the spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, who offered these explanations:
On Calvert Street, the lights are timed, as they have been for years, to enable cars to catch every green light, she said. The problem, Ms. Pyatt said, is that heavier traffic along Calvert and new parking restrictions on a number of blocks have made it more difficult to achieve a red-light-free journey.
"Because of parking and a bus lane, what used to be four lanes of traffic has been squeezed into two," Ms. Pyatt said. "We try to maintain a progressive flow of traffic but because there's additional traffic, there will be more stoppages during rush hour."
(Interestingly, Mr. Bers points out that he does not travel Calvert Street during rush hour and still hasn't had uninterrupted rides.)
As for Hanover Street, Ms. Pyatt said an engineer drove the length of the street, north and south, at morning and evening rush hours, and he did not have the same experience as Mr. Rey. At worst, the engineer was stopped only twice on the stretch of seven lights.
However, Ms. Pyatt said, unlike Calvert Street, Hanover Street can be affected by pedestrians pushing walk-buttons and by cross-street motorists triggering light changes to allow them to cross.