Even before the coronavirus, Maryland’s transportation system was struggling to safely and reliably connect Baltimore-area residents to jobs and other destinations, according to a new report from a transit advocacy group.
The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance’s 2020 report card — the first since Gov. Larry Hogan’s “BaltimoreLink” overhaul of the region’s bus routes — gave the region its third straight overall “D” grade. The metropolitan area received “F’s” in five of the 12 categories: job access by transit, affordability, disconnected communities, air pollution and commute time.
While the report card does not reflect the effects of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, it highlights how little has improved in Central Maryland’s transportation network over the past five years, said Brian O’Malley, the alliance president. The region received a “D” in both its previous report cards, in 2017 and 2015.
“It’s time to start asking some hard questions about what isn’t working,” O’Malley said. “Why aren’t we getting any better?”
Investing in highways, rather than public transit, is disconnecting communities and dirtying the air, the alliance said.
“It’s time to start asking some hard questions about what isn’t working. Why aren’t we getting any better?”— Brian O'Malley, Central Maryland Transportation Alliance president
Only 9% of jobs in the Baltimore region were reachable within an hour by public transit in 2018, a metric that dropped slightly from before the launch of BaltimoreLink, the report card said, citing data from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota.
MTA riders in the Baltimore region had an average commute of 56 minutes. But they were not the only ones waiting to get to work. Nearly a quarter of all workers in the region spent 45 minutes or more commuting — an increase from the previous report card.
The Baltimore region experienced 12 days of unhealthy ground-level ozone levels last year, significantly more than the Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, and greater Kansas City, Missouri, areas, which all experienced either zero days or one day, the report card said.
Brandon Scott, who was sworn in as mayor of Baltimore on Tuesday, said he looks forward to “taking steps to make transportation work better for all Baltimoreans.”
“We must work together as a state, region, and city to ensure that our transportation infrastructure serves people safely, equitably and reliably as they commute to jobs, run errands, and make other important trips,” Scott, a Democrat, said in a statement.
But Hogan, not Scott, oversees the Maryland Transit Administration, which runs the Baltimore region’s buses, light rail, subway and trains. The Eno Center for Transportation, an independent, nonpartisan think tank, criticized the agency’s governance in a separate report last month.
The Eno Center found that the MTA is the only one of the 50 largest transit agencies in the country that is governed and operated by the state without a board of directors, direct local funding or local oversight.
“Unfortunately, under this governance structure, metropolitan Baltimore’s public transportation system has not kept pace with repair and service needs nor has seen a new rapid transit line in more than two decades,” the Eno Center report said.
The MTA’s Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan defines transit corridors and lays out the agency’s goals for future service.
“However, the plan does not boldly state priorities for investment to achieve its goals and as a result, does not create as cohesive a regional vision for transit as it could,” the Eno Center report said.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said he planned to review both the report card and the Eno Center report in the coming weeks.
“I look forward to … discussing the work outlined in the reports, and continuing to collaborate to make our entire transportation network the best it can be,” Slater said in a statement.
Maryland Transit Administrator Kevin Quinn noted the state’s $2.2 billion in capital investments in transit, which include replacing the Baltimore Metro subway rail cars, overhauling light rail and MARC trains, and purchasing new buses and MARC locomotives.
The MTA’s on-time performance reached 79% in February and the agency is using GPS trackers installed on its buses to report reliability and on-time performance on its website, Quinn said. The MTA and Baltimore City are installing seven miles of dedicated bus lanes, traffic light sensors that prioritize buses and pedestrian safety improvements along North Avenue, he said.
“While we believe that these investments and improvements since the last Report Card have positively impacted our riders, MDOT MTA recognizes that there is much work to be done to improve investment in state-of-good-repair solutions, accessibility, and reliability around the region,” Quinn said in a statement.
The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance’s report card compares the Baltimore metropolitan region with 19 other similarly sized areas, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Society of Civil Engineers and Smart Growth America.
Central Maryland got no higher than a “C,” or “passing,” grade in any of the dozen categories the group measures. Its reliable transit was graded “incomplete” because of a lack of uniform data source comparing “on-time” performance across agencies, O’Malley said.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, called Central Maryland’s latest failing grade “embarrassing.”
“Roads and bridges may have improved slightly but they are only part of Maryland’s wide-ranging transportation infrastructure,” Cardin said in a statement. “We haven’t invested like we should and it is harming communities across our state.”
Job access by transit: F
Job access by car: D
State of good repair: C
Commute mode: C
Maryland Policy & Politics
Disconnected communities: F
Reliable transit: Incomplete
Air pollution: F
Physical Activity: C
Commute time: F