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Slashing service is no answer to circulator woes

The Charm City Circulator is a free service which is an incredible amenity to those who live and work in and around downtown, and especially the 11th District ("Charm City Circulator running $11.6M deficit," Nov. 25). It contributes to a reduction in traffic congestion and parking issues and moves us closer to achieving our goal of a greener Baltimore City. I would argue it is a contributing, if not driving, factor behind Baltimore's ranking as the eight largest destination in the nation for millennials (according to a recent report in the New York Times). The circulator will help us get closer to our City's goal to bring 10,000 families to Baltimore.

The Department of Finance's Bureau of Budget and Management recently reported that the circulator has run an $11.6 million total operating fund deficit since 2009, which could add a reported $3 million annually in the years ahead. The report identifies four paths forward, which are essentially an a la carte menu of eight different individual options (listed further below). These four paths are:

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•Reduced Green Route services with significant parking tax increase

•Increased headway with a minor parking tax increase

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•Introduction of a fare and increased technology

•Limited service with no revenue increases

The report goes on to recommend path No. 2. I disagree with this option as it would, among other things, remove one bus from the Purple Route (north/south line servicing Mount Vernon Belvedere, Downtown, Inner Harbor, Otterbein, Federal Hill and South Baltimore, and by far the highest ridership of all four routes) and completely discontinue the Banner Route (servicing Locust Point, Riverside, Key Highway and Inner Harbor). In addition, among the routes previously discussed for potential expansion is a proposed southern extension of the Purple Route from Fort Avenue south to Wells Street (a northern extension of the Purple Line). As a result of this report, this much needed South Baltimore extension may no longer be a viable option. In summary, path No. 2 would have a disproportionately negative impact on the peninsula, especially Locust Point and South Baltimore.

I believe that we can come up with a hybrid solution. It may not eliminate the annual deficit, but it will make a very significant dent in it. This hybrid solution could and should include some variation of at least six of the below eight individual options, which include:

•Route adjustments and consolidation

•Standardized hours and operations

•Harbor Connector Route study

•Capital replacement

•Implementation of fares

•Parking tax increase

•Advertising/sponsorship

•Partner contributions

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However, introduction of fares and a parking tax increase don't seem to make sense at this point. We need to be creative here, and blanket reductions in service or blanket tax increases are not the answer.

While some may view our current budgetary predicament as a situation of mismanagement, I believe it is clearly a cost issue, as one would reasonably expect with the city offering a free service of this magnitude. With that said, while some would argue the quantitative economic impact of the circulator, I don't think that is answerable or productive. Rather, the qualitative impact of this critical service is what is so incredible and warrants the city working to find a creative solution keeping this service intact.

I remain committed to and look forward to working with the mayor and her administration and the City Council to come up with a solution that keeps the circulator sustainable and sustainable.

Eric T. Costello, Baltimore

The writer represents District 11 on the Baltimore City Council.

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