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In Baltimore, streetcars can succeed where buses have failed | READER COMMENTARY

The Kansas City Streetcar, launched in 2017, runs along Main Street in Kansas City, Missouri. (Orlin Wagner/Associated Press).

I love it when people from Fallston purport to care or know anything about Baltimore’s underachieving public transit. But what is startling about a recent missive from that transit desert is the recommendation that The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board “get past” the Red Line and print an article by Warren Buffett urging a “more flexible” bus system in lieu of streetcars or light rail for Omaha, Nebraska (”Will The Sun’s editorial board ever get past the Red Line cancellation?” Jan. 13).

Leaving aside the oblique insult that Baltimore can’t do any better than Omaha, it appears that the correspondent has been asleep for the last five years. Baltimore did get a new and highly-touted bus system beginning in June 2017 called BaltimoreLink. It was a failure. It lost one-third of its ridership in the first several weeks when fares were waived and rides were for free. It was so bad that there were overflow meetings in the War Memorial Plaza during the summer of 2017 from enraged transit riders including myself. At that time, a one-way commute on transit averaged 90 minutes, and the BaltimoreLink in its infancy was performing even worse.

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Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2019 that ridership was still flat and 66% of these BaltimoreLink buses would show up late or not at all. During the first year of its operation, BaltimoreLink did not have a map of itself. It also became clear in the post-BaltimoreLink era that children taking the Maryland Transit Administration buses from 8th to 12th grade could not rely on the BaltimoreLink to get them to and from schools in a safe, timely and reliable manner.

It has also become apparent to me that the buses run for employees by University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins are much more efficient, timely and reliable than the MTA. There have been times when I watched four or five Hopkins buses pick up passengers while crowds gathered to stuff a single tardy MTA Brown Line bus like sardines. If the BaltimoreLink were such a rousing success or at least a fraction of what it promised, newspapers, politicians and activists like myself would not be rethinking the concept of the Red Line.

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Instead of the experience of Omaha, I would like The Sun and any powers-that-be to share the success story of the free 2-mile-long Kansas City streetcar, which bolstered downtown revenues and businesses to the extent that four more miles of free streetcars are being considered.

— Paul R. Schlitz Jr., Baltimore

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