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Goal for Annapolis' Try Transit Week: Get people out of cars, onto the bus

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The 17th-century town of Annapolis was not designed with motorists in mind, and over the years, it has struggled to provide enough parking places and widen enough roads to accommodate them. But even so, the visitors and workers who converge on downtown each morning often find that driving can be a pain.

"Thomas Jefferson said vigilance is the eternal cost of freedom," said Mayor Dean L. Johnson. "Well, parking is the eternal price of Annapolis."

This week, the Annapolis Department of Transportation will try to inspire people to leave their cars at home.

A weeklong program of events recognizing national Try Transit Week will begin today as the department dedicates the first dozen of 100 new bus shelters, which officials hope will encourage more commuters to trade their cars for seats on buses.

The idea of the week is to "turn public attention to the positive role and benefits of mass transit," said Paul Foer, marketing specialist for the Department of Transportation. "The increasing concern over traffic congestion and parking make us increasingly important."

The number of rides on city buses has doubled in the past five years, outpacing the state goal of nearly doubling transit ridership statewide by 2020, Foer said. From July 1999 to June 2000, the department logged 1,070,000 rides, up from 935,000 the year before, said Danielle Matland, director of the department.

If Foer and Matland had their way, even more people would rely on the bus system.

"Annapolis doesn't have the facilities to build bigger roads or have the space to build 100 parking garages. The Chesapeake Bay is being killed by the emissions of single occupancy vehicles," Matland said. "The only solution is to increase the use of multi-occupancy vehicles, riding the bus and using alternative forms of transportation or car pooling."

Matland said she wants to "create a transit system that is so easy to use and so convenient that it compels you to use it."

With development expected on the Inner West Street Corridor, the city is in the process of redeveloping the public transit system to improve service and include the street on its shuttle route.

Matland said she hopes to offer the improved bus service free for all riders, through "creative financing" including using a percentage of parking garage fees and business contributions to subsidize it. Currently, the buses are free when boarded downtown and 75 cents at the Navy stadium or elsewhere.

Matland said the new bus shelters are a step toward a better transit system - previously there were only about a dozen shelters at 140 bus stops. The new shelters, 100 at 170 bus stops, should be completed in six months. The bus shelters are being built by Adshell, which displays advertisements in them and handles their maintenance and repair.

Adshell will pay the city $40,000 this year and increase its payment every year thereafter. Each shelter will also display route information, schedules and system maps in English and Spanish.

Annapolis events:

Today: ribbon-cutting for new bus shelters at 10 a.m. at the bus shelter at Calvert and West Streets.

Tomorrow afternoon: city displays on City Dock a handful of transit buses - costing $90,000 to $220,000 each - that the city might choose as it buys new buses over the next year. A new Greyhound bus will also be on display because the company expanded its service to the city last month.

Wednesday: McGruff the crime-fighting dog and Sparky the fire dog join Annapolis police and fire personnel in handing out safety information on buses from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Thursday: Customer Appreciation Day. All bus and trolley rides are free and Maryland Lottery tickets will be given to passengers in the morning.

Friday: the transportation department recognizes its Driver of the Year. The People's Choice driver, chosen by transit customers' votes, will also be honored.

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