Officials want to expand bus routes; With more state aid, evening, western county service possible


If Howard County transportation officials have their way, there could soon be a new evening bus route between residential and employment centers, a reduction in waiting time for riders and a resumption of service in the western county.

Those were some of the services officials said they could offer if the state provides a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in transportation funding to the county for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Officials of Corridor Transportation Corp. are cautiously optimistic the county will get the money.

The Laurel company was hired by the county two years ago to oversee transformation of the public transportation system.

"Nothing is ironclad, but we're hopeful that it will take place," said Corridor transit administrator Ray Ambrose, who shared the proposals with the Public Transportation Board last night.

Carl Balser, the county's transportation planning chief, told the board that the Federal Transit Administration is close to awarding a $650,000 grant to the county for a reverse-commute, access-to-work shuttle program that would link night-shift workers in the U.S. 1 corridor to their homes in Howard County and West Baltimore.

Balser said the county's application has cleared two hurdles -- approval from the state Mass Transit Administration and securing of a 50 percent matching grant from the county Department of Social Services, the Mass Transit Administration and a nonprofit foundation.

"Normally, we don't announce what grants we're going after," Balser said. "But this was sort of an exciting proposition, and it looks like a fairly good bet that we'll get it."

Balser said the goal of the program is to promote employment opportunities in the U.S. 1 corridor and strengthen job retention. He also said that he expects the business community to fully fund the shuttle service by the fourth year of the program.

One person who could benefit from the service is Muriel Sumner.

A member of a Passenger Advisory Group that monitors bus service in the county, Sumner said she was frustrated when a temporary agency twice rejected her application for part-time work because she did not own a car.

"No matter how skilled you are, if you can't get to a job, you can't work," said Sumner, who has since filed a complaint against the agency with the county Office of Human Rights. "I want you to try to realize that not everybody has a car, but everybody has to pay the rent, buy groceries, pay the bills."

Ridership on the Howard Area Transit Service (HATS) has grown.

Corridor Transportation Corp. records show that from July to December, more than 301,000 riders used the buses.

That was a ridership increase of 17 percent over the same period in 1997.

Although any additional funding from the state would immediately be used to cover the costs of running the Howard Area Transit Service, Corridor officials are hopeful that some of the money could be used to attract more riders.

Ambrose said Corridor is considering a new evening bus service that would link residential communities to employment centers in the county and reducing the average 60-minute wait to 45 minutes during peak commuting times by adding another bus.

The company would study the possibility of re-establishing the HATS West bus service to its former 18-stop run between the Lisbon Park & Ride lot and The Mall in Columbia.

Since Labor Day, the route has been converted into a demand-response system that serves riders, who request a bus at least 24 hours in advance.

Ambrose also said the agency would look into buying two new buses at a total cost of about $480,000.

"What we're looking at is, if the potential for these changes becomes reality, we'll be prepared to come back to the board with recommendations of how the changes can be implemented effectively," he said.

Jeffry Barnett, chairman of the transportation board, shared Ambrose's optimism.

"If history is any indication, we should be optimistic," Barnett said.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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