Tobytown is a historically black and low-income mixed-housing development in affluent Potomac, just a couple of miles from Potomac Chase Estates, where I grew up and attended school with kids from Tobytown. Most of the 60 or so residents of Tobytown are descendants of the freedmen — former slaves — who founded the community in 1875.
Concealed in a grove off River Road near the C&O Canal, the community is a more-than-45-minute walk from the nearest bus stop on Travilah Road. Because several residents lack personal transportation — or the money to fuel their cars — many must tread the dangerously narrow thoroughfare on dark mornings just to get to the bus.
This removal of a project two years in the making is another in a series of failures to provide residents of Tobytown with adequate and sustainable transit access to jobs, education, health care and other basic services. The county, well aware of the community’s need for transportation access, has provided two other “solutions” that have failed. The first, in 1998, involved appointing one Tobytown resident to drive a donated community van on a voluntary basis. The resident already had a full-time job and children and could not afford to transport other residents regularly. The initiative quickly fell through.
In 2008, another attempt was made when the county was awarded funding through the U.S. Transportation Department’s Job Access and Reverse Commute Program. This grant allowed Montgomery County Transit to develop an 18-month pilot program called Link-A-Ride, a taxi voucher system that provided registered residents of Tobytown with taxi vouchers of up to $120 a month. These vouchers, however, were enough for only a few round trips to the bus stop on Travilah Road. This initiative unsurprisingly failed because of low participation. (The county cut an after-school program at the same time.)
When I requested more information about the Link-A-Ride program, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) wrote in an e-mail to me dated March 15, 2013, “It is difficult to ascertain the reluctance to use the service that would transport individuals to the closest Metrorail station or bus stop to connect to an existing fixed route in the system. We also worked diligently with the Health and Human Service agency representing Tobytown to further assist in our efforts, to no avail.”
But if you ask Tobytown residents why the programs have failed, they will tell you they have always asked for and needed one thing: public transportation.
Until Tobytown residents receive public transportation, they will remain locked in a cycle of poverty by their county and excluded from the opportunities that the surrounding affluent neighborhoods in Potomac enjoy. As proud members of a historic community, Tobytown residents deserve better from one of the richest counties in the country.
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