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UMBC, Hopkins should provide free MTA passes to employees

The overnight launch of Gov. Larry Hogan's $135 million remodeling of the Baltimore region's bus routes marked the conclusion of more than a year of planning, public meetings and bus driver training and re-training on a sweeping redesign of the routes, signage and branding — what the governor hopes will be a "transformative" overhaul for the bus system.

A good transportation system is critical to the well-being of a city and its inhabitants, as university presidents Freeman Hrabowski and Ron Daniels rightly pointed out (“Lift Baltimore by prioritizing digital skills, transportation,” June 19).

As the heads of two large institutions comprising 60,000 affiliates working and living in the Baltimore area, they have the opportunity to lead the way on improving Baltimore’s transportation system. Both institutions operate university-affiliated shuttles between their respective campuses, and their affiliates live, work and play outside of these routes. Many rely on private vehicles,such as Lyft and Uber rides or taxis to reach these other destinations, even though the Maryland Transit Administration operates public transportation routes to most of the Baltimore region.

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Navigating fare policy and payments and the hassle of having to pay can prevent people from using public transportation. University of Maryland Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins University affiliates can buy discounted MTA passes or save with pre-tax transit benefits, but this does not represent a large incentive for those who might take public transit if it were more convenient. If these two institutions alone provided free MTA access to their affiliates (as recommended in the Greater Washington Partnership’s “Employer Mobility Challenge”), the increased demand would lead to increased service frequency and better quality for routes that many Baltimoreans already take, and that many more might take if service improved. We can look to Richmond, where Virginia Commonwealth University and Bon Secours Health System have launched a pilot program offering no-cost transit passes to their affiliates. In fact, over 100 universities and colleges across the U.S. do so.

For Presidents Hrabowski and Daniels, this is a clear action and a great place to start.

Raychel Santo, Baltimore

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