And miles to go ...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

YOU SAID IT yourself, Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, in a commentary piece in yesterday's paper:

"Most important in the here and now is fixing the existing problems at the MTA."

Put this at the top of your list: Figure out how to deliver your best service on the peak tourism days of the year.

Someone severely underestimated the demand on the Fourth of July: Throngs overwhelmed the light-rail system - passengers were left standing at downtown stations well past midnight. An MTA spokesman says the trains had to be run until 3 a.m. to clear the huge crowd.

The Pratt Street light-rail station was a bottleneck after the fireworks show. As an hour passed, the restless and wilted revelers stood six, seven and more people deep. For most, there was no room on the two arriving northbound trains that groaned with standing-room-only passengers from the Camden Yards station a stone's throw south.

A gallant train operator argued with the crowd to back away from the doors and allow two ladies in wheelchairs to the front of the disabled access ramp (children and women with baby strollers had taken refuge there). Some wouldn't budge, others couldn't: With so many standing behind, there was nowhere to go.

Some abandoned the station to search for a rare empty cab, and even to walk home. According to the city's office of promotions, the Inner Harbor enjoyed a record crowd - an estimated 275,000 to 300,000 people visited for the fireworks. Their ranks were swelled, in part, by Orioles fans who lingered after the afternoon game and by 30,000 churchgoers meeting at the Convention Center. This is the kind of tourism Baltimore needs - and transit must support.

Mr. Flanagan, your commentary took a poke at the Glendening administration for its "only transit accomplishment" - getting federal aid for double-tracking segments of the light-rail line, which many riders hope will speed the train schedules. Now it's on you: Figure out what it'll take to accomplish quicker service, especially on days it is needed most. Your spokesman explained that the number of trains running on the Fourth was limited by the number of operators who volunteered to work the holiday - 11 trains ran, four more than usual on a holiday but far too few for the size of the job.

Three hundred thousand people didn't volunteer to stay home. You need to be there for them.

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