Hundreds of Howard County commuters might be forced to find a new way to get to work if proposed cuts to three bus lines are implemented.
Facing budget woes, the Maryland Transit Administration has proposed eliminating three of the four commuter bus routes from Howard County to Baltimore, including two from Columbia and one from Laurel. The cuts also would include reductions in MARC train service.
The proposed cutbacks are among many being considered for public transit throughout Maryland. If approved, they would go into effect Jan. 12, according to MTA officials.
State transportation officials say revenue streams such as the gas tax, which fund MARC train and commuter bus services, have seen significant declines since the fiscal year began July 1.
"MTA must reduce its budget, and while the majority of the reductions are taking place in the administrative budget, some MARC train and commuter bus services are proposed for elimination," according to a summary of the proposals released by MTA.
The cuts could pose a problem for almost 600 Howard residents, said Carl Balser, transportation chief for the county Department of Planning and Zoning. As gasoline prices rose, there was a significant increase in ridership on those routes in the past year, he said, adding that the prospective changes are "disappointing."
"I understand the fact that the budget is a real problem this year for the state, but at the same time, we've just gone through a process with the state to expand one of our parking lots because of the dramatic increase we've seen in people taking the commuter routes," Balser said.
Earlier this year, County Executive Ken Ulman worked with state officials to increase parking spaces at the park-and-ride lot at Snowden River Parkway and Route 175, one of the most heavily used in the county.
"What concerns me the most is the elimination of service as opposed to the reduction of service," said Ulman, who plans to testify at public hearings on the proposal. "My fear is that once it's eliminated, it doesn't come back."
Balser said the 310 bus route, which runs from Columbia to Baltimore, has an average of 235 passengers a day, a nearly 54 percent increase from last year. The 311 route has an average of 219 passengers a day, up about 42 percent from last year; and the 320 route has about 190 passengers a day, about a 1 percent increase from last year, Balser said.
In addition to the proposed route cuts, the MTA is considering eliminating bus service on several holidays, including the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The only remaining commuter bus to Baltimore from Howard County would be the 150 route, which departs from the Long Gate Park and Ride in Ellicott City.
"It leaves no option in public transportation for people who live here," said Carol Filipczak, chairwoman of the Public Transportation Board, a group that advises Ulman. "Long Gate is hardly the center of the county."
The cuts also would have a big impact on commuters who do not have cars, said Sharonlee Vogel, president of Transportation Advocates, a grass-roots group that works to increase public awareness of county transportation issues.
"It's going to be devastating because there is no alternative except to get back in your car," Vogel said. "What do they expect people to do?"
MTA officials say that in addition to public hearings scheduled next month, written comments will be accepted by mail and e-mail and will be given the same consideration as verbal comments if a name and address are included.
Written comments must be received by 5 p.m. Dec. 26 and should be sent to Glenn Litsinger, MTA Office of Customer Information, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore. E-mail comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with "Hearing comments" as the subject heading.
Tuesday, Nov. 18
Owen Brown Interfaith Center
7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia
6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 19
City of Laurel Municipal Center
8103 Sandy Spring Road, Laurel
6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Routes 310 and 311
Columbia to Baltimore; proposed to be eliminated.
Currently operates: express service via Interstate 95 to Harper's Choice, Wilde Lake, The Mall in Columbia, Owen Brown Parkway, Broken Land Park and Ride, Snowden River Park and Ride, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Charles Center, Mount Vernon Square, State Center Office Complex
Laurel To Baltimore; proposed to be eliminated.
Currently operates: express service via U.S. 1 and Interstate 95 to Laurel, Jessup, Maryland Wholesale Food Center, Elkridge, Southwest Park and Ride, Camden Yards, Convention Center, 1st Mariner Arena, State Center Office Complex
A complete list is at www.mtamaryland.com
Source: Maryland Transit Administration