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A light rail train pulls into Linthicum. Business leaders would like to see Gov. Larry Hogan invest more in Baltimore area transit service.
A light rail train pulls into Linthicum. Business leaders would like to see Gov. Larry Hogan invest more in Baltimore area transit service. (Al Drago, Baltimore Sun)

Too often, public transit is perceived as a handout to the urban poor that takes away from road construction, which is regarded as a more pro-growth, pro-business approach to transportation. Nothing could be further from the truth. And as Exhibit A, we would point to the letters dispatched recently from Baltimore’s top business leaders to Gov. Larry Hogan urging him to increase funding to the Maryland Transit Administration for expanded city service. Their plea isn’t about directing more bus traffic to low-income neighborhoods, necessarily (although it’s likely they’d be perfectly happy to see that, too). It’s about a very practical problem: Their prospective employees want to be connected by transit, not by car. Businesses need transit to prosper.

We’ve made this point before. It came up, for example, when Montgomery County-based Marriott International began exploring a move from a parking-rich location well-served by Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway to downtown Bethesda several years ago. To get the best and brightest to work for the company, officials argued, they needed to be better connected to transit lines. And that’s one of the essential points the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Baltimore Business Mobility Roundtable have made. They warned the governor in an August missive that Baltimore’s economic future depended on improved transit service to keep pace with peer cities.

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Marriott International signage is displayed outside its current headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.
Marriott International signage is displayed outside its current headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

In other words, you can’t get to places easily by bus, light rail and subway in Baltimore now, and even if you try, it takes too long. And keep in mind this letter was signed by people like real estate developer Thomas Buzzuto, T. Rowe Price CEO Bill Stromberg, BGE CEO Calvin G. Butler Jr. and Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels. They run bottom line organizations. They aren’t looking for a handout, they’re looking to compete on a level playing field. “A month-long shutdown of the Baltimore metro system last August is a stark reminder of the importance of adequate system maintenance and preservation,” they wrote in an Oct. 28 letter. And they specifically warned about a lack of transit investment in “key employment centers” such as Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Port Covington.

We could certainly sing the praises of transit all day for other reasons. It’s more energy efficient; it would help address climate change in a state that is especially vulnerable to sea level rise; it does, indeed, help low-income workers hold jobs; and it reduces harmful emissions, which ought to be a consideration in a region with worse than average air quality. The Hogan administration’s response so far has been disappointing to say the least. They point to increased amounts spent on transit (primarily for the D.C. region) and ignore the fact their own budget projections anticipate the MTA won’t have enough to keep up with basic maintenance, mobility and safety upgrades even without any expansion. Make no mistake, Baltimore transit had been shortchanged before Mr. Hogan ever showed up in Annapolis. It’s just that the same person who spiked Baltimore’s east-west light rail Red Line four years ago continues to be wholly uninterested in doing much about the transit woes the Red Line was supposed to address.

And this is being business friendly? Not by the standards of actual business executives. We would urge Governor Hogan to take a second look at what Baltimore’s top business leaders have to say on transit. They aren’t a partisan group. They applaud the governor’s efforts to secure funding for upgrades to the Howard Street Tunnel as a boost to Baltimore’s port. They just recognize the urgent need to better fund public transportation and stand ready to “work together” to “improve the lives of Marylanders.” Given the huge sums this governor has committed to upgrading D.C. area transit (including the $5.6 billion Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda), that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

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