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

"Happy Holidays"

Dear MTA,

Putting "Happy Holidays" on the front display panels of your buses is cute and all, but could you at least cycle them with the number and destination of the bus? Thanks.

Best wishes, Phil!

Waited nearly an hour for the bus on the way home, but that's probably the fault of the traffic diversions and general congestion stemming from the Christmas tree lighting. Doesn't really get the MTA off the hook for this morning, though.

Missing, late buses.

The MTA had been behaving itself for a couple of months (inasmuch as it ever behaves--the 8, on the occasions I've had to use it, has been as bad as ever), so I suppose it was due for something.

The 31 scheduled for 6:58 at Liberty and Baltimore never arrived. I waited until roughly 7:20 before a 31 came by. (The next scheduled arrival was 7:24.) The bus then sat at the Arena stop for roughly 15 minutes as the driver waited for a replacement. None was forthcoming, so he eventually drove on, despite the fact that he was supposed to have been relieved. I got home a bit over an hour later than I ought to have.

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.

Appropriate Error Messages

I spent some quality time with several MTA ticket vending machines today, much to my sorrow. You see, I wanted to buy a $64 monthly ticket. I pushed the appropriate button, fed in each of my four $20 bills, watched the amount remaining as displayed on the machine decrease by 20 for each bill, then, after I fed it the last bill, watched it display "Money Returned" and spit all the bills back out. Useful error message, no? I eventually determined that it didn't want to give me change form $80. Fortunately, a local bar had a bartender who was willing to give me change for a $20. Upon being given exact change, the machine happily supplied me with a ticket.

Then I proceeded to wait an hour for the bus. In that span of time, three different buses from the 19 route were scheduled to go by. Not one did. Thanks again, MTA.

The MTA Sucks

Public transportation is a good idea, it really is. Maryland just happens to have implemented it in a rather sucky manner. And I get to deal with it.

I was actually up earlier today, so I figured I'd stop at Baltimore Coffee and Tea for chai and a bagel to server as my breakfast/lunch. I missed the bus I was aiming at, which was my fault because I was a little late and it was on time. I caught the next one, which was three minutes late.

Got on the Light Rail in Baltimore and off next to Baltimore Coffee and Tea, ten minutes later than scheduled. Well, I still had ten minutes before the next train, and it was probably going to be late, so I went and got my food. Came back ten minutes later to see the back of the train receeding along the tracks.

Now I made my big mistake. "Oh," says I, "I can just go catch the 8, rather than waiting twenty minutes for the next train." I walked for six minutes to the bus stop, then waited for another twenty-five. In that time, two buses were supposed to have gone by. None did. From past experience, I really should have known better than to trust the 8 when I needed to have anything resembling a schedule.

I ended up walking back to the Light Rail stop and taking the next train, which was only seven minutes later than scheduled.

All told, if I'd left right after missing the first train, I could literally have walked to work and gotten there sooner than I ultimately did.

Bah.

The Route of the 31

Herein is contained a very oblique sort of rant, and it's boring too. Just skip over this entry. You'll feel better about yourself.

The MTA runs a number of bus routes. Each one is numbered. I regularly ride the 31.

The 31 runs from Penn Station to Halethorpe. It goes down Cathedral Street, proceeds from there to Lombard Street, to Wilkens Avenue, runs along Maiden Choice Lane, through UMBC, and along a couple of other streets to its destination. Oh, except that it doesn't always go through UMBC. Sometimes it just goes past it. Oh, and sometimes it takes Leeds Avenue instead of Maiden Choice; this also skips UMBC. The buses do have signs that indicate which way they're going, except that they rarely mention whether or not they're going through UMBC; you get to guess. And half the time, the signs are broken or so dim that they can't be read.

And did I say that the buses went to Halethorpe? Well, sometimes. Sometimes they go to Halethorpe Industrial Park, which is the same route, but goes a little further. And sometimes they go to Beltway Business Park, and sometimes they just stop at UMBC and turn around there. Mostly, this is indicated on the sign. But when they go to Beltway Business Park, sometimes they turn onto Sulphur Spring Road and sometimes they head through Halethorpe and up Washington Boulevard. The signs give no indication which of those it is.

So, the bus signs could say: "31: (UMBC|Halethorpe|Halethorpe Industrial Park|Beltway Business Park) via (UMBC|Maiden Choice|Leeds)" and they still leave out information.

Oh, and the schedules? They indicate which subroute is being used by leaving out times. Not going through UMBC? No time in that column. The bus that goes to Beltway Business Park via Leeds and Sulphur Spring has a schedule that reads: "[5 columns] <time> - - - - <time>" Yeah, all those blanks are really useful for the people catching the bus in the middle there.

And there's stuff I don't understand after over a year and a half riding the bus. I don't know what to make of the one line that has a time for UMBC, but not for Leeds and Maiden Choice. There are footnotes on some of the lines. "A - Via Goodwill" There's one line with that footnote, and it skips every column between Wilkens & Caton and Beltway Business Park. If you're on that route, better hope you catch that one bus. "F - Via DeSoto Road" Goes that way southbound in the early morning and northbound during the mid-afternoon. I don't know why. "C - Cathedral & Franklin" "D - Charles & Saratoga" Apparently, sometimes the bus doesn't go all the way to/from Penn Station. Again, I don't know why.

So that's the simple approach adopted by the MTA. I regularly see people confused by the plethora of meanderings that the buses can take, and I can't really blame them. I don't have a useful alternative, and I can only assume that there are reasons for the current setup, but neither of those stops the status quo from being just the tiniest bit sucky.


Phil! Gold