A business group plans to survey employers and workers in the Jessup-Laurel industrial corridor this summer to determine how improved mass transportation could help them attract workers for some low-wage jobs.
It will be the first major survey of that area's employers and employees about their transportation habits and needs. A similar survey also will be conducted this summer among major employers of low-wage workers in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport area.
"We know something is needed in the way of improvements. What we don't know is what the route structure should be," said Neil Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, Inc., which is doing the surveys. "You don't want to add more service unless you know when people would use it."
Mass transportation for workers has emerged as an important issue for employers in the industrial area, many of which have difficulty filling low-wage jobs as a result of limited public transportation.
No one is certain how many jobs go unfilled as a result, but a nonprofit Baltimore group believes the problem is significant enough to warrant shuttling as many as 500 city residents to entry-level jobs in the U.S. 1 industrial corridor.
Historic East Baltimore Community Action Inc. believes its plan, for which it is seeking funding, would bridge the gap between suburban jobs and city residents without transportation.
In its survey, the BWI business group plans to query about 30 employers who have more than 100 employees in Howard County's U.S. 1 industrial corridor, a major employment center. Small business also will be surveyed randomly.
By late August, the partnership hopes to put together specific recommendations for the state Mass Transportation Administration for improvements in the Jessup-Elkridge and BWI areas, said Mr. Shpritz. The surveys will be discussed at a meeting scheduled with major employers tomorrow, said Mr. Shpritz.
Howard's U.S. 1 industrial corridor is home to thousands of entry-level warehouse, packing and distribution positions, paying an average of $6 to $8 an hour. Many of these low-wage workers lack cars of their own.
In addition, the high cost of housing in Howard County makes it difficult for low-wage workers to afford to live in the county. The average sales price for a home in Howard was more than $194,000 in 1994 -- the highest in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
Because of that, employers must draw workers from elsewhere. Many of the workers come from Baltimore City and nearby communities in Anne Arundel County, say employers in the area. Public transit is essential for many of those workers, but such service is limited.
For example, the Maryland Transportation Authority operates just one limited-service bus line known as the Laurel Flyer between Baltimore and the major industrial parks in Elkridge, Jessup and Laurel during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
There are four MARC train stops near the industrial corridor -- in Elkridge, Jessup, Savage and Laurel -- but no shuttle bus service from those stops to employment areas.
The BWI area also is served by public bus service. And a Central Light Rail stop is planned to open there in about 18 months.
Making the picture more complicated is the fact that at least 20 companies in the U.S. 1 industrial area, including food distribution giant Smelkinson-Sysco, operate 24 hours a day.
Some of these employers say the lack of public transportation makes it hard to fill jobs on late night and weekend shifts.
Employers attending a meeting organized by the county and the partnership last month to discuss transportation issues offered some ideas on improvements. They included:
* Increasing the availability of public bus transportation between Baltimore and the industrial corridor, particularly in the evening and at night.
* Starting a system of shuttle buses that workers could take from rail stops to employment in the Route 1 area.