After one round of input in fall 2016, the Transit Development Plan (TDP) for Central Maryland is ready for its next infusion of public opinion, as the first of four public meetings was held on Aug. 21 at the North Laurel Community Center.
“We were in this very room at the beginning of the process,” said Clive Graham, administrator of the Howard County Office of Transportation. “Now, we are about 80% though the process. We’ve got a lot of information from public outreach last fall, [and] we did a lot of evaluation of existing services, as well.”
Three additional meetings — all in September (see below) — will facilitate gathering community input on service and policy proposals for the Regional Transportation Agency (RTA) of Central Maryland and for other transit operations in the area. The TDP is based on an evaluation of service and identifying needs, then developing proposals to meet those needs and improve service.
The service proposals include realigned routes, reduced ride times, increased frequencies, improved connections and expanded weekend service.
Fred Fravel, project manager for the KFH Group, a consulting firm that has been working on the TDP, explained that all the transit systems in Maryland complete a TDP every five years.
“Sometimes there are longer-range plans that look at things like building new rail corridors,” Favel said, “but for this plan, we would be happy if most of these things got implemented over the next five years.”
Those attending the public meeting heard an overview of the TDP, then had the opportunity to ask questions about specific route areas. The format of the September meetings will be the same, he said.
Fravel also wanted to emphasize that this TDP is a partnership. “This is unusual in Maryland, to have a regional transit agency,” he said. “People here criss-cross county boundaries all the time, so we need to develop services that crossed these lines within one system, to create a regional transit system that meets these needs.”
Developed with Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County and the City of Laurel, the TDP will set guidelines for transit services in Central Maryland and will provide a roadmap for organizational improvements, including potential expansion, during the next five years. An implementation plan is due in November.
Connecting People, Jobs
Public transit is an issue the public and the business community should care about because, at its heart, it provides avenues to jobs to a greater number of people, said Stuart Title, vice president of Odenton-based A.J. Properties.
Title has testified in various forums for public comment for more than 20 years. Though he supports many of the improvements the latest TDP will bring, Title questioned how funding structures impede the ability of local transit to connect with Baltimore and Washington.
“Most of the federal dollars go to metro areas, and those metro areas are defined by a formula and the funds can’t be used elsewhere,” he said. “Yet we have, in this region, essentially a metro area that’s larger than either of the two cities.”
Howard County has done a good job of providing transit, he said. “They’ve always made the rhetoric of transportation a top priority. They’ve backed it up with funding. Some other counties have not.”
Fravel said he, like Title, appreciates people who care about transit and want to offer ideas. “We did an on-board survey on the buses, and I have never seen a response like we got from the bus riders on the RTA. We heard from 1,200 to 1,300 riders, and got another couple hundred responses from the public and from stakeholders.”
Ramon Robinson, who b1ecame Anne Arundel County’s first-ever transit director in October 2016, said he believes there has been good input from people throughout the region.
“What you do find with the regional perspective is that we still have specificity toward each individual county and what it is looking to achieve,” he said. “For Anne Arundel County, of course, the goal was about making connections to job centers and providing adequate connection for people to get to those job centers.”
Robinson said he is focused on improvements in getting people to some key destinations, like malls, airports, MARC trains, light rail and other significant connections that make people’s work trips easier.
Tying the needs of counties together in one regional system means ironing out some “leftovers” of the past from the Central Maryland Transit System, said Fravel. “One of the odd things, as a legacy of having been two separate systems, is that we are dealing with two different schedules and fares,” he said, and the proposal is to have one schedule and one fare system.
People also want more frequent, and more reliable, service. “People now work and shop seven days a week,” Fravel said, and “they want buses that show up, on time, that don’t break down.”
Anne Arundel County
• Tuesday, Sept. 12
Anne Arundel Community College at Arundel Mills
7009 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover
Served by: RTA Routes 201/J, 202/K, 501/Silver, 502/B and MTA Routes 75, 201
• Wednesday, Sept. 13
Non-Profit Center of Howard County
9770 Patuxent Woods Drive, Columbia
Served by: RTA Routes 501/Silver, 503/E
• Monday, Sept. 18
George Howard Building, Columbia/Ellicott Room
3430 Court House Drive,
Served by: RTA Route 405/Yellow