Readers praise Washington bus

You keep hearing about the American love affair with private vehicles, but the reaction to the Feb. 12 Getting There column suggests many motorists would love to jilt the family car if effective alternatives were available.

More than a dozen e-mails responded to a report on a little-known seven-day public transit link between Baltimore and Washington. As usual, readers were able to add new layers of useful information.


Others just sent a box of much-appreciated ego candy.

"Thank you so much for this article," wrote Catriona M. K. MacLeod, a professor at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. "Though I've lived in Baltimore for 25 years, I had no idea that such an option existed. Particularly useful for weekend trips to D.C."


Richard Layman passed on a blog posting by Stephen N. Pinkus of Washington describing a 2005 visit to Baltimore using the Washington Metro-B30 Metrobus-light rail combination described in the column.

Pinkus wrote that he made use of the B30 bus' front-mounted bike rack - standard issue on Metrobuses - to bring his bicycle to Baltimore for a day of exploring. (Unlike MARC, Metro and the light rail accommodate bikes at nonpeak hours.) It's only two bikes per bus, though, so there's a risk if this idea gets too popular.

Unlike me, David I. Leavitt has been aboard the B30 when it has been "jam-packed" - especially going out of the Greenbelt Metro station in late afternoons. He reports that would-be riders are sometimes turned away when trying to get to BWI for flights.

If that's the case, there's an obvious solution: added runs at peak times.

Flo Harbold of Baltimore wrote that she is "blind as a bat" and doesn't drive, so she was thrilled to learn about a new and inexpensive way to get to Washington. Now she'd like to find a similar cheap route to Philadelphia - especially on weekends. Good luck. Even on weekdays, convenient northbound transit connections apparently stop at Perryville in Cecil County. Can anyone help her?

Ted Kavakas brought me back to earth by pointing out an error in the column.

The northbound B30 bus does not, as was stated, stop at the BWI Marshall Airport business district station before going to the terminal. So there is no time advantage in getting off there to catch an earlier light rail train to Baltimore. (There are, however, 36 free parking spaces at the business district station - something you won't find at the terminal.)

Kavakas also pointed out that a combination of the B30, the Washington Metro Green Line and the Route 5A Metrobus can take a rider from BWI to Dulles International Airport. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Web-based travel planner verifies his report and suggests L'Enfant Plaza as the transfer point between the Green Line and the 5A.


The cost: $8.30 at peak times for a roughly 2 1/2 -hour trip. Add on the $1.60 light rail fare, and you can go all the way from Dulles to Hunt Valley for $9.90. Not a bad deal.

By the way, that travel planner on the WMATA Web site is hardly unique to Washington. Most large transit agencies around the country - including New York and Boston - have some version of a trip planner on their Web sites.

The Chicago Transit Authority, with its excellent site, lets you enter a major landmark from a pull-down menu and plot a course to another. Want to go from the University of Chicago main campus to the Lincoln Park Zoo? Take the No. 59 CTA bus to the Red Line train to the No. 22 bus. Fifty-four minutes, plus 0.6 miles of walking, $4.25 regular fare. Time to get the information: one minute.

But not the Maryland Transit Administration. Go to the Web site and you'll find a rudimentary list of schedules and maps - with no help in unscrambling the spaghetti bowl of routes. A call to MTA's information center asking a similar question took eight minutes to deliver the information - and that was with a polite operator and no long delays.

It's just so 20th century. Isn't it enough that we have a baseball team that can't hang with New York and Boston?

Holly Henderson, a spokeswoman for the MTA, said the agency introduced a "basic" trip planner to its Web site in 2002 but discontinued it in 2004 because it was "ineffective."


In case the MTA hasn't noticed, the software for mapping programs has made more than a few strides in recent years. Maybe the MTA's chief computer nerd should call WMATA's top geek and get some tips.

While they're talking, maybe they could brainstorm a little about a regional system that would bring together all the transit information in the greater Washington-Baltimore area: MTA, WMATA, Virginia Railway Express, county and municipal transit agencies and private operators.

With a little information-sharing, riders should be able to plot a one-day, two-way, car-free trip between Perryville and Spotsylvania, Va. When our regional transit lords get around to doing that, I'll make the trip.