Baltimore bus route changes wreak havoc, group says

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
A group says changes in some Baltimore bus routes have made problems worse.

A transportation advocacy group says recent changes to nearly half of Baltimore's bus schedules were poorly publicized and wreaked havoc for riders.

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance analyzed schedule shifts on 22 routes that changed Aug. 28. They found reduced service on all but one route.

With fewer buses running and more time between them, some busy routes have seen wait times double to as long as an hour between buses during rush hour, the group said.

"They were across-the-board cuts," said Eric Norton, director of policy and programs for the advocacy group, which called the changes too big to be made with only a week's notice.

"From a rider's perspective — and an advocate's perspective — six, seven or eight days' notice isn't enough," Norton said. "You're talking about people's lives, people's commutes — getting to work on time, picking up their kids on time. These sorts of changes have major impacts and ripple effects."

The Maryland Transit Administration adjusts bus schedules at least three times a year to improve reliability, said agency spokesman Ryan Nawrocki.

Nawrocki said most of the recent changes were small, but that a few routes with chronically late buses now have less frequent — but more reliable — service.

"That was to optimize our system so that buses show up when they are supposed to show up," Nawrocki said. "This is an attempt to make a schedule that the customer can plan their day around. … In some cases, that meant reducing how frequently the buses came."

Nawrocki said the schedule tweaks were focused on fixing problem routes.

"We didn't just go in and blow apart the system," he said. "We used a scalpel."

Del. Brooke Lierman, who represents Southeast Baltimore, said she has fielded complaints for months from constituents tired of waiting for the No. 7 bus, which goes through Canton.

Lierman wrote a letter to the transit agency outlining the complaints and asking about changes to the line.

In response, the agency reduced the frequency of buses. Now, the MTA said, buses on the No. 7 line are an average of two minutes late, not 15 minutes.

While reliability is an improvement, Lierman said, people now are waiting longer for the infrequent buses to arrive.

"Rather than improve the on-time rate for the No. 7, they decided to cut service," Lierman said in an interview.

"People who ride public transit want to get home just as much as people who drive cars," she said. "If they miss a bus because a phone call went long at the office, they don't want to have to wait an hour for another one."

The changes are separate from MTA's $135 million overhaul known as BaltimoreLink, which is supposed to be a major retooling of the region's bus system.

That new plan is expected to take effect next year.

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