Montgomery Co. officials voice concern over local bus service facing massive funding cuts

Local officials have expressed concern over proposed cuts outlined by Maryland’s secretary of transportation, which could mean a hit of more than $17 million to Montgomery County’s Ride On bus service.

The cuts proposed by State Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld, if adopted, would represent a “massive blow” to the county bus service, newly-elected County Council President Andrew Friedson said in a briefing with reporters Monday.

“Ride On users are some of our most vulnerable users,” Friedson said, explaining that most of the service’s riders fall in the $35,000 yearly income range.

Friedson expressed his hopes to work with Gov. Wes Moore’s administration to find ways to address the state’s fiscal position without cutting service to transit riders who badly need it.

Bus service, Friedson said, “is a critical aspect of transit.”

Montgomery County Director of Transportation Chris Conklin told WTOP that the county gets an annual contribution to offset the cost of operating the local bus service.

“We are viewing this as a first proposal on how to balance out the expenditures from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund,” Conklin said, referring to the $3.3 billion in proposed cuts to the state’s transportation fund over six years.

“The Department of Transportation at the state level, I think, did an important piece of work to identify what can and can’t be done with the dollars that are available,” Conklin said.

But Conklin agreed with the idea that the users of the Ride On Bus service would be seriously impacted by any cuts or reductions to the service.

If reductions to the county from the state are to come, Conklin said his department would look for ways to find savings in a way that would “do the least harm.”

Many Ride On users live in parts of the county where their housing is affordable, but transportation options are limited, Conklin said.

“Many times those riders can’t afford to own their own car and don’t have access to many of the travel choices” that wealthier residents can afford, Conklin said. “So, they’re really relying on the Ride On system.”

More than 80 routes criss-cross the county and operate nearly around the clock, Conklin said. The routes with the greatest ridership, he said, are in the Route 355 corridor from Germantown to Shady Grove and from Shady Grove south to Rockville and Bethesda. Another important corridor, Conklin said, is the route that runs from the Briggs Chaney area to Silver Spring along Route 29 that is serviced by the county’s Flash bus.

According to Conklin, about 58,000 riders use Ride On each weekday, roughly 50% of whom are adults commuting to work and about 30% who are students riding for free to after-school activities and jobs.

While Conklin said the choices that Maryland state officials face regarding the budget are challenging, “none of the cuts are good” — but the potential cuts to the Ride On bus system are very concerning “because of the type of impact it will have on residents in Montgomery County.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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