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The Dripby Fern Shen5:32 pmMar 14, 20120

MTA responds; plus, more bad bus stories

So, what does the MTA have to say about the bus driver who allegedly blew past a woman seated on a Baltimore bus stop bench Monday morning, then refused to open the bus door when she caught up with him a block later, telling her “next time, stand up!”

“While safety is our highest priority we also put a high premium on customer service,” said Terry Owens, a spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates city buses.

“That being said,” he continued, “drivers are trained to look for people standing up.”

So, was Bridget Weininger wrong, we asked, to expect that when she looked up from her cell phone at the approaching bus that it would stop?

“Was she right or wrong, that’s neither here nor there,” Owens said, in a phone interview with The Brew. “We are investigating the incident and will make some determination as to whether or not the operator acted inappropriately.”

He noted that bus operators are also not supposed to let people on in the middle of the block or away from the designated bus stop for safety reasons. Weininger said when she caught up to the bus it was stopped at a red light. So was she wrong to expect the driver to let her in?

“Of course, we also expect operators to exercise good judgment and be courteous and go the extra mile and deliver good service,” Owens said. “Where we have problems we investigate and take whatever disciplinary action is appropriate.”

Making another point in the driver’s favor, he noted that “if the bus is full there are cases where it’s just not an option to pick people up,” he also said. “We have certain expectations of operators, as well as customers.”

In conclusion, he said “we encourage folks not to judge the whole system based on isolated experiences” and encouraged disgruntled passengers to contact them. He sent this in an email:

“Our Transit Information Service handles regular customer questions. That number is 410- 539-5000. The Comment Line is for complaints. That number is 410 333-2254. Hope that helps. We are also urging people to use our Rate Your Ride program to keep us informed about their experiences on our service. ”.

Isolated Experience? Hardly, Say Some

Judging by the flurry of comments on Weininger’s first-person account and the attention it got from Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, problems with MTA bus service are a serious concern. (Owens confirmed that Clarke has contacted the MTA to ask them to look into the matter.) Readers have been telling us about having buses blow past them even when they are standing and waving their Charm Cards at the driver.

Here is what we heard from Gregory Emerson, a Canton man who happened to be riding the No. 11 on Monday and saw Weininger get left behind. He sent an email to Weininger which, with a few small edits, he let us post here.

“Today I happened to come across your article on Baltimore Brew. I was also on the 11 bus yesterday when this happened. I wasn’t exactly sure what had transpired until I read your article.

Over the past year I have become so dissatisfied with this bus route (my complaint emails tend to go unanswered) that I considered cancelling my monthly membership because I typically end up walking most days. I have even been in the position where the bus has passed by my stop because I was not standing up.

Recently I wrote an email (also unanswered) to James B. Kraft of the Baltimore City Council representing the Canton neighborhood. I decided not to focus on the MTA but urged him to look into creating a new Circulator route from downtown to Canton, and also to look into the possibility of a public-private bike share program similar to the DC Capital BikeShare program.

My reasoning being that if the MTA can’t be fixed, at least provide residents some decent alternatives.

I truly believe that we can change poor quality of public transportation in the City of Baltimore and make it more efficient and increase ridership as a result. If we can determine a set of changes we would like to see and present them to the City Councilman then I think we can gain some traction.

Example of Proposed Changes:

• Ensure buses make all required stops when someone is at the stop
• Implement GPS on all buses
• Develop procedures to eliminate “Bus Bunching”
• Develop a notification system to notify of delays and not in service buses

I plan to draw up a more formal document and attend the April City Council meeting to raise some of these issues.”

We asked Emerson to tell him a little about himself and this is what he added.

“I am 27 and commute from the Canton neighborhood to a job in the Inner Harbor. I have been riding the city bus for two years. Previously I lived in Federal Hill and would walk to work because I did not own a car (I tried to put off buying one as long as possible).

I think the Charm City Circulator has been a great addition to the city but I am just surprised they have not created a route to Canton. Downtown parking passes range from $140-200/month and so many people live in Canton and drive because the public transit is terrible.

The commute is less than 2 miles one-way.

Furthermore, the City of Baltimore increased the city parking tax under the notion that it would mainly affect tourists and people who do not live downtown.

However, since the public transit from Canton is so terrible, I am forced to drive to places like Federal Hill or Mt.Vernon where my girlfriend lives and pay for parking. I estimate that I probably spend $75-100/year on parking in the city.

I am fine with the increase in the parking tax, but the revenue derived from such taxes should go to better public transportation in the city. We live in a city where people would rather pay up to $2400/year because public transit can’t take them 1.7 miles effectively.”

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