Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced a series of public meetings this fall and in 2017 aimed at developing an updated, short-range Transit Development Plan (TDP) for Central Maryland.
Developed with Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County and the City of Laurel, the TDP will guide transit services in the region and provide a roadmap for implementing service and organization improvements, including potential service expansion, during the next five years.
“With public input, we can better determine the issues and needs that exist, and address what needs to be done,” Kittleman said.
The TDP planning process identifies public and specialized transportation needs of the service area, analyzes the performance of existing transit services, explores alternatives for improving services and recommends an implementation plan.
“Howard County has evolved over the past 15 years, growing in population and density, particularly in selected areas,” said Howard County Office of Transportation Administrator Clive Graham. “As roadways become more congested and people’s travel needs and desires change, we need to find alternate solutions for people to get where they need to go in safe, efficient and timely ways.”
The process kicked off with a series of five public meetings held throughout Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties in October.
“We’re looking for [opinions] on how to improve public transportation in this whole region,” said Fred Fravel, vice president of the Bethesda-based KFH Group, which was chosen as consultant for the process.
KFH is collecting information regarding demographics, land use and existing services, and will then begin developing future plans that may include new routes, schedules, vehicles, technology and stops.
The final plan and recommendations, Fravel said, will form the basis for future funding requests that go to the state and county government.
Facilitators, as well as transit and planning officials, spoke directly with riders at the meetings about rider experiences and the problems they’ve encountered.
The public is also being asked to compete surveys and provide input on top transit needs and suggested improvements. Fixed-route surveys, mobility rider surveys and community surveys will be available online through November at www.kfhgroup.com/centralmd/transitplan.html, and will be distributed beginning in November to riders aboard Regional Transportation Agency (RTA) buses.
A second round of meetings is planned for February 2017 to review service alternatives based on the surveys. Draft and final plans will be developed from March to July 2017, Fravel said.
According to Graham, Howard County and Anne Arundel County are jointly funding the process, in part.
Closing the Loop
The Central Maryland region transit system includes 15 bus routes, MTA service to Baltimore, Metro services that connect Laurel with the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and MARC commuter trains and commuter buses, as well as Anne Arundel County’s paratransit organization, which is operated by its Department of Aging and Disabilities.
“We’re going to look at fare levels and make sure we get uniform fares across the region that are easy to understand,” Fravel said.
It will also be important to ensure that key destinations, such as shopping areas, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and major transit hubs, are tied together.
“Each of the [separate service providers] all do their own separate plans,” Fravel said, “but we can use this plan to put forth ideas and concepts that they also need to be looking at.”
According to Graham, Howard County is also beginning to plan a transit center that will bring local buses and regional buses together to better facilitate commuter transfers.
“We consider the bicycle system as part of transit,” he said. “There’s a pathway ready to open in the next couple of months, a Bike Share we’re hoping to open next year, and a lot of other activity with respect to transit because Downtown development won’t work without transit.”
Newly appointed Anne Arundel County Director of Transit Ramond Robinson said he’s working to address the nearly 10% growth in the county that occurred between the last two censuses and positively influenced businesses within the county.
“My hope is to leverage those things and come up with mobility management strategies that will close some of the gaps we have in service,” he said. “We’ll be looking at not only how to move people, but understanding what that means from a business acumen,” to include an approach that focuses on all forms of mobility, not just transit.
During each of the public meetings, Graham provided an update on the status of the RTA’s fleet.
“We’re hoping to order seven new fixed route buses within the next few weeks,” he said, with delivery expected 12 months after the date of order. “We’re also hoping to take delivery of three electric buses in March. It’s new technology, and they’ll be in revenue service, running routes, hopefully by next spring.”
According to RTA General Manager Mark Pritchard, the county has experienced a delay in the delivery of the electric buses, because they initially didn’t meet federal funding requirements calling for a certain percentage of American-made parts.
He confirmed that the county has funding to purchase some additional smaller transit units as well, although those purchases are not likely to occur until the summer or fall of 2017.
One element of the TDP includes a projection for the number and type of buses needed, year by year, to maintain the RTA fleet in good condition. “We need to accomplish it in enough time so we can order the buses and get them here in enough time before the ones they’re supposed to replace fall apart,” said Pritchard
RTA is fighting a losing battle with its current fleet, operating a number of buses that were previously retired from service by other transportation operators after 13 years of use.
Additionally, Pritchard said, one third of the current fleet consists of vehicles that were not designed to be in constant use for 12 to 15 hours a day for more than 300,000 miles. “They were designed for much lighter duty use; it’s a real problem,” he said. “We could use more than 20 new buses, and will hopefully be able to [acquire] them over a three-to-four-year period, depending on what’s in the budgets.”