Beleaguered commuters from southern Pennsylvania to Maryland will have a new alternative to driving down Interstate 83 starting today: hopping on a bus from York that connects with Baltimore's light rail system.
York County's public transportation system, rabbittransit, will run six round trips each weekday day between York and Shrewsbury, Pa., and the Timonium/Hunt Valley area.
The rabbitEXPRESS service, a three-year demonstration project funded by the federal government's Congestion Mitigation Air Quality fund, comes at a time when Maryland has been shedding commuter routes in response to budget problems.
Richard Farr, executive director of rabbittransit, said the service is aimed primarily at serving Pennsylvanians who live in York County and work in Maryland. However, he said, it is a two-way service that is available to take Marylanders to York in the morning and back again in the evening.
Farr said he believes the bus service is the first transit connection between York and northern Maryland since the Northern Central Railroad went out of business decades ago.
Jawauna Greene, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration, welcomed the new connection.
"Anything that reduces road congestion is positive for us," she said. "It's amazing and wonderful that they're able to step up and complement the light rail service we're already providing to this area."
U.S. Census data shows that as of 2000, 7,970 York County residents commuted to Baltimore County and 2,732 worked in Baltimore. Only 925 Baltimore County residents, and 64 from Baltimore, made the reverse commute.
York County transit officials believe the 2000 figures far understate today's demand. South-central Pennsylvania experienced strong growth in the early part of this decade, Farr pointed out. His agency now estimates that 16,000 to 20,000 county residents commute to northern Maryland.
Commuters on I-83 could have a significant incentive to leave their cars at home. Farr said traffic routinely becomes congested each morning just south of the state line and remains so until the highway widens to three lanes around Hunt Valley. During a test run Friday morning, he said, "for probably about 15 miles we were going like 30 to 35 mph."
A rabbittransit survey found 600 York County residents who expressed interest in a bus service to Baltimore County. Farr said about 300 riders are expected to continue into Baltimore on the light rail, and the other 300 work in northern Baltimore County.
The cost of the trip will be $5 each way, but monthly passes are available at a discount of about $64 off the daily rate. Farr said he expects buses to be at 50 percent capacity when service starts today with a 5 a.m. departure from the agency's transfer center in downtown York.
Buses will make three stops at park-and-ride lots off I-83, the last of them in Shrewsbury, to pick up Pennsylvania passengers. Farr said the Shrewsbury stop off Exit 4 is close enough to the state line that some Maryland residents might want to drive there and catch the bus.
The bus will make its first Maryland stop at the Timonium light rail station, where commuters can make connections to Baltimore. It will then backtrack through the industrial parks and other employment centers of Timonium, Hunt Valley and Sparks before returning to Pennsylvania. Farr said the service cannot be used for rides between points in Maryland.
There will be three buses to and from York each morning and another three in the evening, according to a schedule posted at www.rabbittransit.org. One lure of the service is that it would protect riders against midday emergencies by reimbursing regular users for the costs of a cab trip back to York up to six times a year.
Baltimore riders who take the bus to York will be able to use local rabbittransit service by asking for a free transfer, Farr said. Local lines make connections to such destinations as Hanover, Red Lion and Columbia, Pa., where buses connect with Lancaster County's Red Rose transit system.