About 50 city residents voiced dissatisfaction yesterday with some aspects of the recent restructuring of Baltimore-area bus services during a public hearing with Maryland Transit Administration officials.
Several people testified that cuts to Northwest Baltimore's M6 bus line, which was abolished in a first round of cuts but restored on a limited basis this spring, had resulted in lost jobs, difficulty in getting to doctor's appointments and supermarkets, and a general sense that the MTA does not appreciate the plight of the bus-riding public.
"It seems that these changes are being made by individuals, in my opinion, who do not ride these buses," said George R. Shelton IV, 56, of Pimlico, who testified yesterday at Coppin State University.
"That was a travesty to cut that line," Shelton continued. "You just hung those people out to dry. So it's obvious to me that [MTA officials] don't ride the buses."
"Do you ride the bus?" Shelton asked one of the MTA officials monitoring the testimony. The official did not answer but gently instructed to Shelton to stick to his testimony.
The hearing appeared to be a departure from the rigid control that MTA officials had planned to exert. The session was required by the General Assembly over the objections of state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan. A second hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at Sojourner-Douglas College.
An MTA spokeswoman said Wednesday that people would not be permitted to testify about service issues outside the proposed second-round phase of changes, but several people who openly complained about cuts to the M6 were allowed to continue their testimony.
Elizabeth B. Kreider, MTA deputy administrator for planning and policy, called the assertion that residents would not be allowed to testify about other issues "a misunderstanding."
"Any time that we have a public meeting, people can tell us about any service," Kreider said yesterday. "We never intended to limit the testimony. I don't care if they tell me what color the cars are in the parking lots. It's their three minutes."
Kreider also played down a report that MTA Police Chief Douglas DeLeaver was scheduled to serve as an examiner at the hearing, which Sen. Verna L. Jones, called "an intimidation tactic." Kreider said that DeLeaver, like many other MTA employees, was on a list of possible examiners, but that he knew early in the week that he would not be able to attend last night's hearing.
Before the hearing began, there was drama: MTA officials had arranged for the public to testify at one of four tables staffed by hearing officers, secretaries and a court reporter, responsible for transcribing testimony. But the crowd resisted the more intimate setting and demanded that MTA officials allow testimony to be heard by the entire crowd.
"It took a few minutes for them to understand that we were either going to leave or be heard," said Del. Nathaniel T. Oakes, a Baltimore Democrat. "I think there's strength in numbers. And when we're all singing off the same sheet, everybody is heard and we're all on the same page. But when you got different tables and talking into a recorder, I don't think that's a fair hearing."
MTA officials said the format was designed to provide a more efficient process, in the case there was a huge turnout.
Lisa L. Dickerson, MTA administrator, said the only delay was in making sure the format could be revised logistically and would still meet the legal standards for a public hearing.
"We were able to accommodate the one microphone with the recording," Dickerson said. "I'd like to think we worked it out. I wanted to be careful because there are very strict regulations. I think the important thing is that we had the hearing, and, as you can see for yourself, the turnout is minimal."
Many invoked race into their testimony, saying that the route cuts were made in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
"You are using public funds for a private agenda," said Mercedes Eugenia, president of the Howard Park Civic Association. "We are asking for one bus [the M6], seven days a week. But yet, you want to add buses to Canton. Last time I checked, everybody in Canton had a BMW and didn't need a bus to get to Fells Point and the Inner Harbor."