Public commuter buses offered by the state Mass Transit Administration will begin service from southern St. Mary's County to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 7, officials have announced.
Coming on the heels of cutbacks in routes to the county earlier this year, the new service to St. Mary's Regional Airport near California was hailed as a triumph.
"I'm very excited. We've been waiting for this service for a long time," said Evelyn Dyson, a federal industry analyst who has been commuting to the District for almost 20 years.
Dyson has been riding a private commuter bus, the only mass transit operating out of the Lexington Park area.
But the four daily MTA bus runs out of St. Mary's County will expand the choices of Dyson and other commuters. To kick off the service, state and county officials will offer a continental breakfast to riders Sept. 7, and free rides for the first two weeks, according to Howard Chang, chief of transportation for the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, a regional planning group.
"Our roads are at capacity now," said Del. John F. Slade III (D-St. Mary's). "With increasing population, it's not gonna ever improve. So we've got to look at mass transit. So this bus service is certainly a logical progression."
County officials credited Slade, who chairs the transportation subcommittee of the state House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, with persuading state officials to begin the service.
"The entire Southern Maryland delegation worked hard on this project," Slade said.
Last spring, the MTA cut back the number of commuter buses that leave from Charlotte Hall in St. Mary's County in order to add new buses from La Plata and Waldorf in Charles County. That move met with fierce opposition from commuters, as well as county and state officials.
"Initially, the MTA was proposing to cut the bus runs, and of course we were not favorably disposed to that. It just didn't make any sense to me in an era when we're trying to reduce the number of cars on the road," said St. Mary's County Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden).
At the time, Anderson and the other commissioners urged the MTA to extend the bus service instead to the Lexington Park area.
"We have been working with the state and local transit agencies to make sure the commuter bus will extend to the southern portion of St. Mary's County," said Chang, of the Tri-County Council. "The regional transportation plan and the local plan have called for this extension for many years."
The bus service is in line with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's goal to have 1 million Maryland transit riders a day by the year 2020, said Anthony Brown, spokesman for the MTA.
"As we focus on that goal, we have to look beyond the urban areas and look at some of the opportunities to increase transit ridership," Brown said.
The St. Mary's Transit System will run a shuttle from various points in the southern portion of the county to the regional airport, where the commuter buses will pick up the first passengers. The route includes passenger stops at Charlotte Hall and Mattawoman Beantown Road in Charles County.
The cost of a one-way ride is $4.85, with discounts offered for books of 10 tickets, Chang said.
"It's a very good deal," said Marva Dyson, Evelyn's sister, also a federal employee who has been commuting from Lexington Park to the District for 20 years.
"This is going to be much more relaxing on your mind, and you're more liberated and ready to go," Marva Dyson said. "The wear and tear on my body as well as my car is going to be less."