Feedback

Former bus driver Ralign Wells may be just the man to move the MTA forward

Ralign Wells, MTA administrator

Ralign Wells, MTA administrator

by GERALD NEILY

The Maryland Department of Transportation has promoted Ralign Wells, the ultimate insider, as the new Administrator of its Maryland Transit Administration. Wells started his MTA career two decades ago as a bus driver and has since steadily risen up inside the ranks to the top job. The current MTA Administrator, Paul Wiedefeld, will return to running BWI-Marshall Airport, one of his former jobs.

Ralign’s predecessors in the job gained much of their experience from outside the system. So, does hiring the insider Ralign bode ill for the agency, signaling some sort of failure of imagination? Perhaps just the opposite will prove true. Over the years, most of those ideas-brought-in-from the-outside seemed to lose something in the translation at the agency. Maybe Wells perspective, from inside the bus, so to speak, is just what they need.

The MTA’s Legacy

Back in the 1970s, the MTA modeled its goal of building a new integrated regional heavy rail system after similar efforts in San Francisco, Washington DC and Atlanta, all of which succeeded while Baltimore’s stalled after building one line. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Baltimore focused more on emulating smaller surface light rail systems such as those in Portland, Sacramento, Buffalo, San Diego and San Jose, resulting in the central light rail line which has failed to attract its expected ridership or revitalize Howard Street.

In the Glendening years, the MTA largely turned away from new rail transit and attempted a more neighborhood-oriented planning focus, with small “Shuttle Bugs” in Hampden and Mondawmin and others that never got off the drawing board. In the Ehrlich years, transit restructuring meant slashing minor routes and branches that appeared confusing and extraneous, but were regarded by users as transportation lifelines. Instead, MDOT Secretary Bob Flanagan, who took a hands-on approach to the MTA, promoted the “Quick-Bus” concept of streamlining the MTA’s major east-west trunk corridor with fewer stops and faster service. Quick-Bus planning has continued into the O’Malley years.

Now, the MTA’s major project is the proposed $1.7  billion Red Line, which has been designed as a pastiche of heavy rail, light rail and trolley elements, with extensive and expensive new tunneling typical of heavy rail, exclusive street rights-of-way typical of light rail, and vehicles which are the same diminutive size as many trolleys. The resulting Red Line would operate as a sort of bus-line-on-steroids, totally separate and incompatible with any of the existing lines, with a large muscle-bound physical structure supporting its slow, undersized isolated transportation capacity.

Can the Red Line be fashioned as the backbone that finally makes the MTA work as an integrated comprehensive transit system? The MTA’s planners and consultants, armed with their reams of technical studies and computer models, say that it will (although they had to make radical changes to the numbers and cut out stations and the second track under Cooks Lane, after they had already submitted the project for Federal approval.)

The MTA is also looking at impending financial difficulties, along with the rest of the Maryland Department of Transportation, where unpopular hikes in taxes, highway toll rates and transit fares are seen as lurking somewhere on the horizon. The multi-billion dollar InterCounty Connector now under construction could drive MDOT deeper in debt, while the MTA’s own farebox recovery rates are dwindling.

But after the planners have drawn up their plans and crunched their numbers, new boss Ralign Wells will be the one who is charged with making it all actually work. He knows the MTA’s inner workings first-hand better than anyone else who has been at the top. Can he pull it off?

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • Daveeda White

    I say YES!Wells has the ability to do the job well. He has the working experience and hopefully the full support of a great staff. I own & operate a Kirby Enterprises,van transportation company in Baltimore and a family owned school bus company Y & L and I know first hand how important it is to have someone who knows transportation to be in charge of a transportation operation.

  • May 27, 2015

    • The mayor and Board of Estimates today agreed to pay $42,500 to a 39-year-old woman who was mistakenly shot by a Baltimore police officer during an early morning scuffle on York Road. According to the out-of-court settlement, which ends a $1 million civil lawsuit filed by Tasha Coleman, Officer Quinton O. Smith discharged his service […]

  • May 26, 2015

    • Nine people were killed and at least 20 were wounded as gun violence continued to rack Baltimore over the Memorial Day weekend. The last reported shooting over the weekend took place at 1400 North Fulton Avenue, a well-known crime hot spot. An adult male was shot multiple times in the torso about 11:30 p.m. Monday. […]

  • May 20, 2015

    • The Ingenuity Project has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to bring supplemental STEM programming to 500 high-achieving Baltimore middle-school students. Ingenuity provides about 530 of Baltimore’s advanced 6-12th graders with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum and is hosted by three Baltimore City middle schools – Mount Royal, Hamilton, Roland […]

  • May 19, 2015

More of the Daily Drip »

Below the Fold

  • December 15, 2014

    •   “Ha ha, so not a surprise.” “Shocking…not!!” We get applause but also the occasional eye-roll these days for our accountability reporting – like last week’s piece about how tax cuts promised by the mayor as a selling point for Horseshoe Baltimore probably won’t happen, thanks to the casino’s lower-than-expected revenues. We get where the […]

Twitter

Facebook