COLUMBIA, Md. – The Maryland Transit Administration wants to eliminate three bus routes along the Intercounty Connector that transport residents from Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties to key job centers in Montgomery County beginning in August.
Riders who rely on those routes to get to work spoke against the service reductions during a public hearing in Columbia Thursday.
“We are experiencing low ridership on these routes and we are considering redeploying our resources to serve our other customers better,” says MTA spokesman Terry Owens.
One of the buses, Route 203, connects workers in Columbia, Burtonsville, Laurel and Silver Spring to the Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health along the busy Maryland Route 355 corridor. The route runs three times in the morning, one midday and three in the afternoon.
“Two years in, we expected that route to have about 20 to 30 passengers per trip, but we’re now averaging less than 15 per trip,” says Owens.
Other routes on the chopping block include Route 202 from Gaithersburg to Fort Meade and Route 205 from College Park to the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center in Gaithersburg.
An MTA official tells WTOP that the operating costs for these routes are about $500,000 per year and such low ridership means fares are covering less than 10 percent of the cost.
More than 100 people packed into the Owen Brown Interfaith Center to listen to testimony about how the change would impact them and to voice their own opinions.
“There has never, ever been a public transit option that beats this. MARC and Metro are just not satisfactory,” says Alfred Yergey of Columbia.
Andrew Dix, of Jessup calls, the proposal counterintuitive.
“Everyone says the BRAC impact has been bad, and anytime you can take drivers off the road is a good thing. But basically the MTA will just be putting everybody back into their cars,” Dix says.
Nicole McFarland, of Columbia, recently transferred from Fort Meade to the Naval Medical Center and worries that losing the bus will lengthen her commute.
“Other routes like MARC or Metro would add at least an hour-and-a-half to my commute each day. So a total of three hours commuting for an eight-hour work day,” she says.
Stacey Cunningham, of Laurel, says all that extra time on the road has consequences.
“You’re talking about a less productive worker, and if it takes longer that leads to more frustration and less sleep. It’s just a vicious cycle,” she says.
Other drivers pointed to the fact that these buses result in less cars on the Beltway, so eliminating the buses would lead to more traffic on the road.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett wrote a letter late last month to the MTA urging the agency to reconsider its decision, pointing to the beneficial impact of keeping people out of their cars.
County BRAC Coordinator Phil Alperson tells WTOP that the proposal doesn’t make sense to him, but he’s confident the MTA could still reverse course.
“Traffic is already bad on 355 in Bethesda and along 270 getting to Gaithersburg. That’s why our county supports proposals to get people to use mass transit options,” he says. “By eliminating this service, collaborative efforts by state and county governments to mitigate congestion in our region will suffer.”
The federal government gives employees a transit subsidy to encourage them to ditch their cars and use buses and trains.
Owens tells WTOP that the MTA has not made a final decision yet and encourages public input before a decision is made in July.
“This is all part of the process. If a lot of people let us know that they want a route to remain, we will seriously look at it and we may end up making some modifications,” he says.
If eliminated, it would leave only two remaining buses along the Intercounty Connector.
Update: A WTOP commentor asks, “What is the round trip cost of a ticket for the bus out of Howard County?
Answer from WTOP’s Ari Ashe: “Good question. Answer is $5.00 one-way fare on all three routes, although there are also monthly passes the MTA offers at a discount rate depending on which route you ride.”