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Lawmakers still have work to do on improving Baltimore transit | COMMENTARY

Pam Brickell Mondawmin Transit Center where she waited on the 91 bus route, which The Maryland Transit Administration had considered cutting.
Pam Brickell Mondawmin Transit Center where she waited on the 91 bus route, which The Maryland Transit Administration had considered cutting. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore region barely dodged a bullet when many of the Maryland Transit Administration’s proposed cuts to essential transit service were canceled last month, but the need for Maryland’s legislature to step up and act on behalf of those who live and work in our state’s largest population center is clearer than ever.

With reports that Gov. Larry Hogan is still proposing an additional $150 million in cuts to MTA it is imperative that House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, both who are from the Baltimore region, provide the leadership necessary to assure our city and region have the reliable public transportation system that every healthy metropolitan area needs.

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Let’s not forget that what MTA proposed two months ago — eliminating 25 bus lines, reducing service on 12 others, and cutting back MARC train service — would have been yet another body blow to a city and region that have absorbed more than their share over the past five years. After cancellation of the long-planned Red Line and the failure of BaltimoreLink to live up to its promise, the callous disregard for the mobility needs of hundreds of thousands of us who live and work in the Baltimore region cannot be allowed to continue.

Let’s not forget that MTA proposed eliminating all transit service between Baltimore and Annapolis.

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What responsible public body would eliminate all public transportation between the state’s largest population center and its capital city?

Let’s not forget that MTA also proposed eliminating the bus line that carries passengers up and down Baltimore’s main north-south corridor that runs up Charles Street and down Charles and Maryland Avenue between the Inner Harbor and Towson.

What responsible public body would eliminate transit service on a street that includes multiple universities, cultural institutions and shopping districts?

It’s also important to understand that thousands of downtown Baltimore residents, including myself, have chosen to live in the heart of Baltimore without owning our own cars because of the area’s proximity to a variety of transit options. Eliminating basic public transportation service would make it difficult for many of us to remain in the city.

And most importantly, let’s not forget the real hardship MTA’s proposed cuts would have caused for the thousands of Baltimore residents who depend on transit to meet basic life necessities — including getting to and from work, traveling to medical appointments and buying food for their families.

It’s long past time for Baltimore’s legislative delegation to act on behalf of the people and businesses they represent. With the exception of Dels. Brooke Lierman and Robbyn Lewis, Baltimore City and County’s representatives in Annapolis have mostly stayed on the sidelines when it comes to fighting for our region’s public transportation needs.

And despite not going ahead with many of its proposed bus service cuts, MTA still plans to greatly reduce MARC train service and eliminate commuter bus lines.

And with the leaders in each house now representing thousands of residents in Baltimore City and County, the time has come for them to fight for their interests as well as the interests of all of us who care about the health of our city and region.

Our House of Delegates and Senate leaders need to make Central Maryland’s public transportation needs a priority during the upcoming legislative session.

Specific items that must be addressed include:

  • Restoring the cuts to MARC and commuter bus service that MTA still plans to make.
  • Passing the Transit Safety and Investment Act proposed in the 2020 session that would have allocated about $500 million a year for MTA capital projects over the next five years in light of the $2 billion gap in funds needed to maintain a state of good repair.
  • Advancing legislation that increases and/or finds new revenues to meet Central Maryland’s growing public transportation needs going forward.

Our region’s lack of a comprehensive, reliable public transportation system puts us at a serious disadvantage compared to other major east coast urban areas including Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. The status quo cannot be allowed to continue.

We all know that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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When it comes to the Baltimore region’s public transportation needs, Maryland’s legislative leaders must find the political will to make a way.

Paul Sturm (psturm@outlook.com) has lived in downtown Baltimore for the past 13 years. He’s a consultant to social impact and civic organizations and past president of the City Center Residents Association.

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