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Transportation group says revamped Baltimore bus system ‘falls well short’ of promises

Baltimore bus riders have been using a redesigned BaltimoreLink system for the past year. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The Baltimore bus system that was revamped a year ago “falls well short” of the state’s plan for more reliable bus service, according to a study released Thursday by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

The Maryland Transit Administration, the group said, has stopped publishing average travel times, even after promising faster buses under the new system, called BaltimoreLink. The CityLink buses maintain their published headways of every 10 to 15 minutes only 32 percent of the time, compared with the MTA saying 75 percent maintain the promised wait times between buses, the study says.

“It wasn’t a major investment, and it wasn’t transformational or game-changing as it was promised it would be,” said Brian O’Malley, the group’s president. “There are still problems with reliability. A high-frequency network only works if you can count on it.”

On the plus side, the study said, the new system has increased from 13 percent to 20 percent the share of area residents with ready access to all-day, high-frequency public transit. It also found that the new system allows riders to reach 8 percent more weekday jobs considered to be “high-opportunity” because they provide entry-level jobs and a chance to advance for workers who don’t have a four-year college degree. However, the study also says that on average across the region, the total number of jobs reachable within 45 minutes or less via public transit and walking has dropped 6 percent.

The state launched BaltimoreLink last June, two years after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) canceled a proposed Red Line light-rail line for the city, calling it a “wasteful boondoggle.” The $135 million redesign of the city’s state-run bus system included new bus-only lanes downtown, priority for buses at traffic signals, and more frequent service in some areas.

New bus system revives frustration over lost light-rail line in Baltimore

The success of Baltimore’s transit system, or lack thereof, could surface in this fall’s campaign for governor. Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee running to unseat Hogan, has said his administration would build the Red Line that Hogan canceled.

Metro also is looking at redesigning its bus system in the Washington region to improve service and save money.

Kevin B. Quinn Jr., administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, said the agency is “pleased” that the study “agrees that BaltimoreLink has expanded access to high-frequency transit and provides access to more high-opportunity jobs.”

Quinn, in a statement, said LocalLink buses are on time 14 percent more often, and CityLink buses average 73 percent on-time performance. He said the agency also has expanded transit to new job centers, including around Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport and the area where Amazon and Under Armour have distribution centers.

The transportation group, which describes itself as a “diverse coalition of corporate and civic leaders,” called on the state to increase state transit aid, saying Maryland’s transportation budget  would cut funding by 58 percent over the next six fiscal years.