Public transportation can and should be a great thing in any city; it just takes a little marketing, a little money and a sincere interest and commitment to customer service.
I have been using the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system for my daily commute for three years. There are many positive aspects to public transport: less gas usage, less air pollution, less congestion on the highways, less road rage, camaraderie with other riders and a generally peaceful, efficient way back to the suburbs.
The past two weeks, however, have been horrific. The MTA is increasing inspections of its 53 light rail cars after a wheel on one car cracked about a month ago. This has led to delays, crowding, fewer cars - and severe exasperation among some of the light rail's most faithful riders.
One day last week, I left the office at 4:30 p.m. and walked to Howard and Pratt streets to catch the train. The train arrived shortly - and I do mean shortly. There was only one car instead of the usual two. And this was at rush hour.
The doors opened and people were spilling out because they were so jammed in the exit wells. Needless to say, I did not get on; it did not look safe, much less comfortable. Ten or so minutes later, the next one arrived - same story. People were falling out when they opened the doors, and again I declined to board. (This also happened to be a day when the Orioles had a 12:30 p.m. game at Camden Yards that let out at rush hour.)
Thirty minutes later, I was finally able to get onto a two-car train. Why would the MTA use only the singles during rush hour and on the day a game lets out during rush hour?
I had several similar experiences over the past two weeks. When I board at North Linthicum for the daily ride in, there are generally 20 to 40 people who board there in the mornings. We can all fit onto a one-car train, but there are five more stops (including a large one with bus transfer at Patapsco Station) before we get into the city.
This situation is very uncomfortable for all, and it also makes it difficult to get off when you need to. I wonder about safety issues, too. Are there any limits to the number of people that should be on a single car? Are there weight limits?
Rail riders understand that inspections have to be done, but these changes were implemented with very little notice. No one wants cracked wheels, but no one wants overstuffed rail cars either. I'd like to continue as a light rail commuter, but according to a Sun article, it could take until late summer to finish all remaining inspections.
I think I speak for many when I say that's a long time to put up with such inconvenience. At a time of soaring gas prices and clogged highways, transit officials should be doing what they can to encourage ridership - not driving people away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janice Flair, a Severna Park resident, works in human resources at the University of Maryland, Baltimore