Last year, the Opportunity Collaborative, a project of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, found the average commute for citizens in East and West Baltimore to living-wage jobs was 90 minutes each way — provided the bus arrived at all. In recent years, the MTA has routinely pulled buses from routes unannounced due to driver absenteeism and mechanical failure. The consequences are all too predictable: The bus you're waiting for doesn't arrive, and the next bus might be so overcrowded that it passes you by. Such unreliability causes people to lose their jobs and makes kids miss school.

Consider, too, the lost opportunities to grow our city. Baltimore Collegetown Network's annual survey of graduating seniors at area colleges has found for the past 12 years that lack of good transit is this group's biggest complaint about Baltimore. Millennials want to live where they don't need to own a car. Baltimore fails this test, costing us large numbers of a demographic group representing the job creators, educated work force, and expanded tax base that the city needs to thrive in the 21st century.


The effect of a high-functioning urban transit system on job creation is hard to overstate. A 2015 Harvard study on poverty in America concluded that the No. 1 obstacle for people trying to escape poverty was neither crime nor subpar education, but ineffective public transportation to jobs, educational opportunities, health care and even healthy food. If we are serious about better connecting people to jobs and educational opportunities, as well as attracting new residents and businesses, we need to create a better public transit system, starting now.

So where do we go from here?

Fortunately, there are solutions to these problems, and some are already being implemented around the city or will be soon. First, BaltimoreLink, the MTA's revamped bus system, will be rolled out this summer. It will reorganize the city's bus system so that routes better connect people to jobs in a faster and more efficient system. The MTA has already taken on the task of eliminating the unannounced pulling of buses and overcrowding. It is also supporting the development of a smartphone app that will allow the public to know what their transit options are and when the next bus will arrive.

We must work with the MTA to make certain the new system meets all of its stated goals, however. BaltimoreLink should not be viewed as a one-time rollout. The MTA will need our feedback about what is working and what isn't, so it can be continually improved.

The role of the Charm City Circulator as part of the overall bus system is being reconsidered, and the MTA is working on better signage and mapping to show how our bus, rail, metro, circulator and water taxi systems link up.

Another important recent public transit development is the long-awaited unveiling of the Baltimore Bike Share program and the increasing effort to develop a bike lane network through the city, which combined already resulted in increased bicycle usage among avid cyclists and first-time riders alike. It is crucial that public pressure be exerted to extend these efforts.

Other positive changes include the purchase of the water taxi system by Kevin Plank's Sagamore Ventures, with the goal of making the system all-weather and all-season, serving both commuters and tourists. The water taxi could become an important part of our transit system. It is exciting that Sagamore is making such a strong investment; these kinds of public-private partnerships should be fostered throughout our transit system.

Good things are clearly happening here and there, but what we need is a comprehensive transit vision serving all populations and regions of the metropolitan area. Transit Choices, a coalition of organizations and people who are passionate about this issue, recently published a brochure outlining such a vision, which we hope will jump-start this necessary conversation.

The long-term success of our city and all of its residents is inextricably linked to a high-functioning and reliable transit system. The system must be multi-modal, with the various modes linked into a unified whole. It needs to be economically and environmentally sustainable, and, most importantly, user friendly.

With a new mayor and City Council in office, now is the time to make our collective voices heard. Let's not waste this opportunity to create the world-class transit system that Baltimore deserves.

Jimmy Rouse is president and Robin Budish (robin@baltostreetcar.org) is director of the Baltimore Transit Campaign, a founding member of the Transit Choices coalition.