A regularly scheduled mini-bus service for low- and moderate-income families in rural southern Prince George's County was approved this week by the County Council.
Acting on an executive order issued in mid-February by County Executive Winfield Kelly initiating the program, the council approved two routes which for the first time, will take riders from Aquasco and Eagle Harbor to hospitals and to potential employment areas in the more populated areas around the Beltway.
"This will touch families who couldn't get basic services taken care of in their care," council staff member John Griffin said. "Most of those people have trouble getting to the grocery store and employment sites."
The southern ends of the county - in the west, the Baden-Accokeek area; in the east, the areas near Aquasco and Eagle Harbor - are known as "Little Appalachia" by some council members who have seen the dirt roads and wooden shacks in some of the worst rural pockets.
A 1973 profile of the area indicated that more than one-third of the residents were families with incomes below $5,000, and more than 75 percent were found to need transportation to medical, educational, commercial and employment facilities.
Since the survey was made, the county has taken only a few measures to change those statistics. With Community Development Block Grant Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), some repairs on homes have been made and septic tanks and indoors toilets have been installed in some of the rural enclaves.
But the Baden Clinic, which offers social services and public health information to residents of the western areas, is continually threatened with budget cuts that may close the facility.
And the transportation project, which has been approved in concept since 1975, was almost scuttled this week by council members objecting to costs and administration.
Some council members said the bus service, which would charge riders from 10 to 30 cents, depending on the distance traveled, would comete with private transportation systems, and suggested a higher fare of 50 cents.
But council member Darlene White said the increased fare would defeat the purpose of the project. "The whole point of this is to get the people who are economically disadvantaged to use this system and get back into employment. Can you imagine the taxicab fare from Eagle Harbor to Landover Mall?"
The price tag of $75,000 for bus purchases and operation, which will come from the Community Development Block Grant, also drew an expression of concern from one member, who said he thought the program would produce a new government agency. But under Kelly's plan the project will be jointly administered by the Program Planning and Economic Development (PPED) section and by the Deparment of Aging, which will handle the bus routing and staffing.
Two of the three 18-passenger mini-buses, one of which is equipped with a lift for handicapped riders, will circulate throughout the county each week.
The "red" line is to have a five-day schedule, beginning at 5:30 a.m. in Aquasco and going to Eagle Harbor, running up Rte. 381 to the Social Service Building at Rte. 5 and Branch Avenue and ending at Iverson Mall.
The "green" line, which will run three days each week, will leave Eagle Harbor and take Rte. 382 to Croom and Upper Marlboro, then follow Rte. 202 to Landover Mall and Prince George's General Hospital.
The third bus is to be a backup.
"The idea was to provide maximum incentive for people to travel," Julian Hailes, a PPED staff member, said. "We won't be surprised if persons who have cars will take our buses, but we do know that it will help those people who really need it as well."