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Lawmakers must address Baltimore transit’s breakdown woes | READER COMMENTARY

Maryland Transit Administration bus breakdowns
Maryland Transit Administration bus breakdowns

The cost of having the buses and trains that break down most in the U.S. ("Baltimore-area buses break down more than in most other cities, partly because the MTA forgot to buy new ones,” March 7) weighs on the workers and students and the employers and schools of Central Maryland. When the bus or train regularly breaks down or fails to show up, workers lose their jobs and miss pickups at childcare, and employers deal with disruptions. Students arrive late for school or give up altogether on going, and performance and graduation rates suffer.

I am familiar with the issue because the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance pulled the federal data and created the graphs used in the article. Don’t be fooled. The implication that the cause of the breakdowns can be pinned on the MTA missing a bus procurement in 2015 is a red herring. Missing the annual replacement of 1/12th of the bus fleet once five years ago cannot be the whole story behind why MTA buses break down more frequently than buses in peer agencies. It certainly does not explain why the MTA’s three types of trains, light rail, heavy rail (Metro subway) and commuter rail (MARC), break down more frequently than any other agency in the country.

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The real cause is the state’s failure to prioritize the safety and reliability of the MTA systems in its budgets. As Maryland Secretary of Transportation Greg Slater said in a recent hearing,“ asset management is either pay now or pay more later. Just listen to his remarks that begin at the 1:34.40 mark in the MTA’s budget hearing before the Transportation & The Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 24. At current funding levels, the backlog will continue to pile up, taxpayers will pay more over time and riders, employers and schools will be asked to cope with an unreliable and potentially unsafe system.

There is a potential solution before the General Assembly. The Transit Safety & Investment Act (HB368/SB424), the legislation mentioned in the article, needs votes in the House and Senate.

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James L. Shea, Baltimore

The writer is chair of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

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