CMRT rolls out new logo, branding of local buses

Riders used to seeing white, Connect-A-Ride buses along the G route could be confused by red and white vehicles at bus stops this week that have a CMRT logo emblazoned on the side.

Central Maryland Regional Transit (formerly CTC), which manages the local bus system in Laurel and surrounding counties, has changed the bus service's logo, and the Connect-A-Ride brand is no more.

CMRT officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Laurel Municipal Center April 3 to unveil the system's new logo and rolled out the first bus displaying the new design.

"The first bus will be on the G Route and on the J Route," said CMRT spokesman Michael Weinberger. "We will have three of these buses on the road within six months.

CMRT officials also gave Laurel City Council members a look at the new signage that will be installed at all bus stops. The bus stop signs will feature the new logo, bus route information and Internet and text information riders can use to find out when the next bus will show up.

"All buses have GPS systems, so when you text us, you can find out in real time when the next bus will arrive," Weinberger said.

City Council member Donna Crary was impressed with the new branding and signage.

"The logo is great and the colors stand out," she said after boarding the bus that was parked in front of City Hall for the unveiling during the council's work session.

CMRT officials said in addition to eventually upgrading all buses with the new logo they hope to receive a state grant to lease 14 additional buses to add to their fleet. In updating the council on local bus operations, CMRT CEO Jim Perez told members that service is improving overall.

"Over the last fiscal year, complaints were down by 28 percent, we've improved on-time performance by 5 percent and ridership has been up in the last six months," Perez said.

According to Perez, ridership on fixed routes is more than 1.6 million passengers, even with the loss of the bus stops at the mall, a major hub that closed while the mall is undergoing a multi-million dollar facelift.

"When it (Town Centre at Laurel) reopens, ridership will go up even more," Perez said. "We're as excited as you are to see Laurel Mall developed and transit has to be part of that development."

No route reductions or other changes were announced during the presentation to the council, but Perez said they will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the entire system to determine how it can be more efficient. In addition, he said they will upgrade system maps to include information on Metro and MARC schedules, as well as expanding their 24-hour call center services.

City Council President Fred Smalls commended the new branding and plans for upgrading services, but advised CMRT officials to be aggressive in informing customers about new and proposed changes and upgrades to the local bus service.

"Outreach is good, and with the new branding … you need to let customers who depend on the service know that this is a new transit system," Smalls said.

In addition, Mayor Craig Moe, who helped cut the ribbon for the unveiling of the new bus design and signage, reminded CMRT officials of bills pending in the Maryland General Assembly that could bring increased funding to the local bus system.

"It's important to make sure our senators and delegates are contacted on this…" Moe said. "They have to know what this will do for Laurel. … It's imperative that we work the phones because things can get hectic (as the General Assembly winds down)."

Perez told city officials that they are reaching out to as many state legislators as they can on the funding issue. CMRT receives funding from the federal government, state and the local jurisdictions it serves. Laurel gave the agency $75,000 this fiscal year and in past years, when the transit system was strapped for funds, the council created a special tax district along a stretch of Route 1 to provide additional money for the bus system.

"We want to reduce reliance on local taxpayer dollars," Perez said, but did not say what plans they have or are developing to make that happen.

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