January 30, 2007
Governor Martin O'Malley took office this month, bringing with him to Annapolis longstanding support for transit and transit-supportive development policies. As Mayor of Baltimore, O'Malley led a group of Baltimore region elected officials to advocate for additional funding for transit expansion studies. His administration also took an interest in MTA's planned bus system restructuring, public involvement in rail planning studies, and transit oriented development in the city. Once elected, O'Malley moved quickly to appoint John Porcari as Secretary of Transportation. Porcari, who held the same position in the Glendening administration, has spent the past weeks re-familiarizing himself with state transportation issues. At the top of his agenda is a funding shortfall looming in the Transportation Trust Fund, the source of funding for all state transportation programs.
A panel of legislators created to identify "unconstrained" long-range transit funding needs in Maryland wrapped up its work shortly before the December holidays. The panel's report, expected to be issued soon, will identify a 20-year shortfall of $2 billion to simply keep up with operating costs and maintenance needs of the current system. When service enhancements and four proposed rail lines are added, the shortfall grows to $13.5 billion. The panel's staff provided a menu of options for addressing this shortfall ranging from cost reductions through operating efficiencies to fare increases, contributions from local governments, and adding or increasing sources of revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund. While the panel's report is unlikely to make specific recommendations about an appropriate level transit funding or new revenue sources, it will undoubtedly be reviewed whenever the larger question of transportation funding is raised.
MTA announced the re-branding of its limited-stop 40 line bus service late last month as "QuickBus" or "QB40." The program includes new shelters marked by yellow and gray pylons and real-time bus arrival information broadcast from an electronic sign in the shelter. At the time of the announcement on December 21, 11 stops had been equipped with the new features but MTA promised this would be expanded to 200 stops later this year. The 40 line, implemented in 2005 as part of the first phase of a comprehensive overhaul of bus routes, operates from Security Square Mall in Woodlawn through downtown to Essex. QuickBus has some of the features associated with Bus Rapid Transit, an alternative under consideration for the Red Line, but so far neither MTA nor Baltimore City or Baltimore County have implemented any improvements that would offer more speedy service. A second phase of the route overhaul planned for next month was postponed earlier this month at the request of the incoming O'Malley administration. In making the request, Secretary-designee John Porcari indicated that the administration wanted to seek more public input before moving ahead. The next opportunity to make changes to schedules comes in June, but it is likely to take MTA until fall to receive the additional feedback and make modifications.
A new study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association found that households that regularly use transit save an average of $6,251 in fuel and vehicle ownership costs. The average "public transit household," defined as having two workers, one car, and living in a transit-served community, drives 16 fewer miles per day than a non-public transit household. The study also found that public transit usage reduces U.S. gasoline consumption by 1.4 billion gallons per year, and that expanding transit enough to double ridership would also double this fuel savings.