Sun, 12 Jun 2005

The Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative

The MTA recently announced a Greater Baltimore Bus Initiative. They are planning to restructure most of the bus routes in the Baltimore system, in what I believe is that first major overhaul the system has ever undergone.

On looking at the proposal for the first time, the initial impression I got was one of reduction. Four lines will be added (the 9, 28, 40, and 41) while 18 will be discontinued (the 2, 7, 10, 27, 31, 36, 61, 65, 86, 91, 98 (Hampden Neighborhood Shuttle), 102, 103, 104, 105, 150, 160, M6, and M12). (In most cases, each of the areas served by the discontinued lines will be served by a different line after the reorganization.) The reduction has both good and bad aspects. On the good side, it will simplify the routes significantly. As I've written before, the current routes are somewhat baroque, with lots of branches and optional sections. The new plan looks like it eliminates most of those, leading to simpler and more understandable routes, at the cost of convenience--many places will be farther from the buses than they are now, though the limit seems to be between four and eight city blocks.

On the other hand, there are several places where the MTA is simply cutting service completely, largely to the north and northeast of the city. The 83 corridor will remain accessible, but that service will stop at Hunt Valley Mall. Along the rest of the north and northeast portion of the current service area, service will stop at or barely outside the Beltway. The 8 will no longer go to Stella Maris; the 15 will stop short of the Beltway, no longer going to Rutherford Business Park, Windsor Hills, Ingleside Avenue, and Forest Park Avenue; the 19 will no longer go to Cub Hill or Joppa Heights; the 23 will not go to Hawthorne and Wilson Point; the M10's entire route north of Smith Road, which currently goes up to Greenspring Station, will be removed; and the M12's service will be dropped completely, eliminating access outside the Beltway along Stevenson Road, Park Heights Avenue, and Greenspring Valley Road, the latter of which renders Villa Julie College inaccessible. I know people who use some of those removed routes, and I have occasionally made use of some of them myself. Losing them makes Baltimore's public transit system much worse.

I'd say that the changes proposed are more bad than good. The "good" parts are mostly that the bus routes have been simplified and bus frequency increased in heavily-used areas. The simplification is not without its downside, though, since it leaves many people walking much farther to get to a bus. The bad part is that large sections of service are simply being removed, causing serious problems for anyone who uses those sections.

The MTA is holding community meetings this week and public hearings next week to solicit feedback on the proposal. (I have no idea what the difference between a "community meeting" and "public hearing" is.) The public hearings all start at 4pm on weekdays, with the exception of the one that starts at noon on a weekday. Needless to say, they're not terribly convenient for people who work. The community meetings, at least, all start at 6pm.

The Baltimore Sun has an article about the proposed changes.

Mon, 07 Mar 2005

MTA Plans New Management System

The MTA announced a few days ago that they would be implementing a new system to track and report on the state of their vehicle fleet. The Baltimore Sun has an article, and the Department of Transportation has some details. They say they'll be done by 2006; no indication on when they'll start putting things in.

It looks like this could be very nice and should address a few of my complaints about the MTA. The Next Train Arrival signs should nicely handle my complaints about not being notified when things go wrong and trains get delayed, while the Next Vehicle Arrival signs will do the same thing for the buses, a feat that's currently pretty much impossible.

They tout a public announcement system that "will provide audio announcements at Light Rail, Metro & MARC passenger stations." Of course, they already have this, at least at Light Rail and MARC stations--the MARC system even gets used. Perhaps they're just indicating that they'll begin to use the ones at Light Rail stops, too.

With the buses being tracked in real time, they'll be providing real-time trip planning, which will also be a nice added feature. This will be available via the MTA's website; with any luck, it'll be simple enough that I will be able to write a program to get an overview of my trips to and from work right before I leave.

The Automatic Passenger Counter should be nice for redistributing routes and schedules based on actual ridership.

And finally, they mention that the buses will be controlled via wireless LAN. I hope they've got good safeguards on those.

SO the new system looks good. It's at least got the potential to make public transit in Baltimore a little better. Just how much of that potential will be realized remains to be seen.

Odds and Ends

I was googling around the other day and came across this bus rider's guide. It's got a lot of useful information in it, especially for people who aren't familiar with transit systems.

The same session also netted me a set of good practices for transit web site design. Guess who falls flat on almost all of them?

The MTA's been rumbling about implementing a fare system called SmarTrip, which, I gather, is to be similar to the system DC has, where you pay varying amounts of money for the distance you travel and the services you use. The MTA's website now links to, which is a completely useless website where almost every page is blank, save for the sitewide dressing and an "under construction" graphic. Completely aside from the fact that it's not 1995 any more, perhaps they should have held off on putting the site up until they could be useful with it?

Poor MTA Communication...

...but who's surprised?

Bus stop for the 31 at Howard St. and Lombard St. The 31 schedule was changed on February 1st, sixteen days ago. Announcements were made, new schedules drawn up, and so on. The scheduls at the stop is still the one from September of last year.

Convention Center Light Rail stop. The double tracking message board has two items. The lefthand one describes the change back to two light rail lines, effective as of February 1st, 2004. The righthand one has a diagram of the three lines. On the opposite side of the board is a schedule from 2002 that predates any of the double track changes and is, of course, wildly incorrect. Not sure whether the presence of dates on the three documents offset the fact that they all convey conflicting information, especially to readers that don't look closely enough to compare the dates.

Trainsched Schedules

In order to use trainsched with the MTA's schedules, I had to write my own programs to parse the MTA's HTML schedule pages. The results of that work are now on this website. Share and Enjoy.

Zero for Two

Following in Friday's footsteps, the MTA gave me troubles getting to work this morning.

The bus I caught going into the city (bus #8877) was stuck on a hill for some time, because the transmission wouldn't shift into forward. (I'm not sure how long we were there, since I didn't think to check my watch, but I missed two Light Rail trains, so it was at least half an hour.) The driver tried a number of variations on "roll backwards and then gun the engine" but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, something caught and the bus crept up the hill as people held their breath.

The driver said that she had called for a replacement bus several hours previously (apparently, this had happened earlier today, too), but nothing had been forthcoming.

Light Rail Double Tracking

According to a recent announcement, the southern portion of the Light Rail will open completely on December 5th. No more shuttles, at least in that direction.

On the other hand, they're closing the northern portion (everything north of North Avenue) on January 3rd. And the shuttle bus system they have set up is confusing, to put it mildly.

From what I can tell, there will be three shuttle routes, designated 'A', 'B', and 'C'. 'A' shuttles will go to Falls Road. 'B' shuttles will go to Timonium Fairgrounds and Warren Road. 'C' shuttles will go to Lutherville, Timonium Fairgrounds, Gilroy Road, McCormick Road, Pepper Road, and Hunt Valley. No shuttles will go to Timonium Business Park, Mount Washington, Cold Spring, or Woodberry. Users of any of those latter stops are expected to use buses that run nearby. (Light Rail riders often use the trains to avoid those buses.) The Light-Rail-served terminus of the shuttle routes is not North Avenue (as one might expect), but the Cultural Center stop.

Confused yet? There's more. The 'C' route is a general service route that will run roughly the same hours as the Light Rails does: 5am to midnight on Monday through Saturday and 10am to 8pm on Sunday. The 'A' and 'B' routes are limited-time express routes: the 'A' will run from 6am to 10am and 2:30pm to 6:30pm; the 'B' will run from 6am to 9:30am and 2:30pm to 6:30pm. Both express routes will only run on weekdays.

They don't say what the more specific time constraints are. (Does "to 10am" mean that the last bus will start its last run at 10:00, or that the last bus will arrive at its final destination at 10:00?) They don't say how often the buses will be running. (Probably because there's either no set schedule or because the schedule won't be enforced at all; either would fit the behavior of the southward-running buses this year.)

Neither the MTA's website nor the Double Track Project's website has any mention yet of these changes.

Phil! Gold