The Baltimore Sun: MTA cancels proposal to slash bus service in Baltimore after heavy criticism; will cut MARC, commuter bus service instead

Bus on the move

By Colin Campbell
September 30, 2020

Under fire from Baltimore-area bus riders, business leaders, politicians, parents and advocates, the Hogan administration on Sept. 30 canceled its proposal to slash MTA bus service in the Baltimore region next year in response to falling revenues due to the coronavirus.

Instead, the commuter buses and MARC trains, which have seen deeper and more sustained drops in ridership this year, will offer reduced service beginning in November. Service will be adjusted “as needed to meet demand,” MTA chief Kevin Quinn said.

With about one in three Baltimoreans lacking access to a vehicle, and nearly 40% of bus riders working essential jobs, core bus ridership has remained higher than on the MARC train and commuter buses, suburban-to-city routes which serve more riders who can drive or work from home.

Bus ridership was down only 51% in the fourth week of September, compared to 89% for MARC and 87% for commuter buses, according to the MTA.

Beginning Nov. 2, MARC trains will run on an enhanced “R” holiday schedule, a 57% decrease in service, while the commuter buses will operate on an “S” snow day schedule, a 55% reduction in service, Quinn said. All Express Bus routes and LocalLinks 38 and 92 will remain suspended.

The MTA will preserve its MARC train slots on the CSX and Amtrak tracks and its contracts with commuter bus providers, said Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater.

The cancelled proposal to permanently eliminate 25 MTA bus lines and reduce service on a dozen others due to plunging state revenues had been harshly criticized as inequitable even before next week’s planned public hearings, which the MTA has called off.

‘An egregious pattern of disinvestment’

Though the MTA is rolling back its service reductions, the state’s funding cuts to the agency remain in place. They have drawn anger from Baltimore boosters and transit advocates.

After Congress allocated $145 million of the funding to support transit operations during the 2021 fiscal year, the governor removed $188 million in state money from the MTA operating budget, according to the alliance’s analysis.

Quinn emphasized that the CARES Act money was used for transit as intended, but he did not dispute the analysis, which he said MTA officials are still studying. Maryland lawmakers have raised similar concerns about uneven state funding cuts, he said.

The Greater Baltimore Committee said it was “unconscionable” that Maryland’s contributions to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s operating and capital budgets were fully funded “at the expense of sharp capital and service cuts in the Greater Baltimore region.”

“This action reflects an egregious pattern of disinvestment in underserved communities in the Baltimore region where Black and Brown residents are reliant on already insufficient transit service,” said Don Fry, president and CEO of the pro-business group.