Harford County is planning upgrades to its public bus system, beginning Monday, aimed at cutting down on the need to transfer and reducing wait times, county officials said.
Weekday hours are also being extended. Ride times are expected to decrease by about a third.
“The objective is to make Harford Transit LINK system more accessible and easier to use,” Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County government, said Tuesday.
About 331,000 trips are expected on the LINK’s routes this fiscal year — based on ridership in the first six months — including 305,000 on the fixed routes and 26,000 through its demand response service, through which citizens can all ahead and request service.
That’s up from 297,342 in 2018 and 311,720 in 2017, according to fiscal year figures provided by Mumby.
“The numbers speak for themselves, but for the folks who are using it, it’s difficult to measure how important the service is because in many cases, they may not have alternatives,” Mumby said. “Beyond sheer numbers, these trips are very important to the daily lives of a lot of our citizens.”
John Dennison of Havre de Grace said he is taking a “wait and see” approach to the changes.
“I’m gonna let it do what it do,” Dennison said Tuesday while waiting for the bus behind the Mary Risteau building in Bel Air to take him back to Havre de Grace.
Dennison said he rides the bus often and most of the problems he encounters have to do with transferring, especially in Edgewood.
“Havre de Grace to Edgewood, the bus is not there at a certain time,” he said.
That’s a problem for people who have to be at work by a certain time, he added.
“The only time it’s on time is at 7 a.m.,” when the route starts, he said.
The county’s eight routes have been consolidated to six, a change that will reduce the need for transfers to other buses, Mumby said.
The six new routes are:
• Route 1 Green Line: Havre de Grace, Aberdeen, Bel Air
• Route 2 Blue Line (formerly Routes 2, 5 and 6): Bel Air, Edgewood, Aberdeen
• Route 3 Silver Line (formerly Route 8 and segments of Routes 2 and 6A): Aberdeen, Edgewood, Joppatowne
• Route 4 Yellow Line: Aberdeen Circulator
• Route 5 Teal Line (formerly Route 7): Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Perryville
• Route 6 Orange Line (formerly Route 3): Bel Air Circulator
Key service areas include Harford Community College, the Mary E. Risteau State Office Building, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health and Harford Memorial hospitals, the Perryman Peninsula and Riverside business communities, Aberdeen Train Station, Harford Mall, the Constant Friendship shopping area, Edgewater Village Shopping Center, and Beard’s Hill Shopping Plaza.
The 154 designated stops will remain, Mumby said, and 77 “flag stops” will be added.
Flag stops are designated stops along the routes, but the bus only stops if someone is waiting for it, Mumby said. None of them — many along Willoughby Beach Road in Edgewood — were built into the bus schedule.
“You can imagine how that affects on-time performance, if you have multiple flag stops and folks are at each one of them and they stop each time, or if someone is in a wheelchair — none of that time was built into the schedule,” Mumby said.
Beginning Monday, all the flag stops will built into the schedule, which will “certainly improve on-time performance,” Mumby said.
If a bus were to arrive early to a stop, it will wait until its designated stop time before departing for its next destination, she said.
The county also has an app, RouteShout 2.0, which shows all Harford LINK’s routes and stops and tracks buses in real time. Another app, Token Transit — launched last month — allows riders to buy and show their bus passes on their smartphones.
“The ease of that transaction saves a few seconds every time someone gets on the bus. That helps keep the bus moving and staying on time,” Mumby said.
The Silver Line, which was a pilot route, has been made permanent because it’s been “found to be successful,” she said.
Ridership of the route, which goes to employment centers in Perryman and Riverside, was up 34 percent from December 2017 to December 2018, Mumby said.
“It was done at the request of the businesses in those areas, and the hours are designed to correlate with shift work,” she said.
Bus service, which previously ended at 6 p.m., will be extended until 9 p.m. under the reorganization.
“It makes a big difference for people who work those shifts, make appointments, go to classes — there are any variety of reasons people need to still be on the road after 6 p.m.,” Mumby said.
Another bus is being added to Route 1 — the Green Line, Harford LINK’s most heavily traveled route, along Routes 22, 24 and 40.
The cost to add another bus to the system is about $150,000 in the FY2019 budget, Mumby said, though the county expects about 90 percent of that will be reimbursed through federal funds.
In response to customer requests, Harford Transit LINK will roll out the improvements including extended weekday hours, added bus stops and more frequent buses on fixed routes. All existing bus stops will remain while the need for transfers will be reduced as the LINK’s eight routes are consolidated into six.
Changes to the system stem from an analysis of all routes to improve on-time performance, as well as comments at public meetings and from citizen riders.
New schedules and maps are available on buses, online at www.harfordtransitlink.org and by calling 410-612-1620.
“Harford County’s award-winning bus service keeps moving forward for our citizens,” Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said. “We continue to improve efficiencies, while these new upgrades and our free apps make it more convenient than ever before to let Harford Transit LINK take you where you want to go.”
Dennison, the rider from Havre de Grace who’s retired, said the bus needs to run on weekends.
“A lot of people don’t have cars, I’m one of them,” he said.
Sometimes he gets on the bus just to ride around, when he has nothing else to do, he said.
The longest possible bus ride, without transfers, is on Route 2 from Bel Air to Edgewood to the Aberdeen train station. It has the most stops, and taking the bus from the beginning to the end of the entire route is 1 hour and 40 minutes, Mumby said.
Stephanie Kling of Bel Air takes the bus every day to the methadone clinic in Aberdeen. On Tuesday, she was pushing her small child in a stroller onto the bus that would first stop in Havre de Grace.
She’s excited about the changes, especially the extended hours in the evenings.
“It’s supposed to help people who don’t have jobs that end at 4 p.m.,” Kling said.
Harford County Transit LINK was named the 2017 Outstanding Transit System of the Year by the Transportation Association of Maryland for its campaign to become a leader in modernization and customer service.
The LINK also connects with MARC and Amtrak trains, MTA commuter buses, and regional Greyhound, which then connect with main terminals in Baltimore and interstate travel.
For more information about Harford Transit LINK, including apps, on-demand service and fixed routes, call 410-612-1620 or visit www.harfordtransitlink.org.