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Commentaryby Brian Levy10:03 amOct 27, 20140

New to MTA bus commuting, shocked by the poor service

A resident who depends on a regular MTA bus line wants to draw attention to the “severe dysfunction” of mass transit beyond the Charm City Circulator

Above: An MTA #13 bus heading east on North Avenue yesterday.

EDITOR’s NOTE: This essay is adapted from an email written by an irate city resident to a list of public officials regarding the 13 bus line that runs the length of North Avenue. One of the city’s busiest routes, service is scheduled every 10 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays, every 15 minutes on Sundays.

I began taking the #13 bus line in September of this year. I take the route every day to and from work except those days where I have been forced to give up and walk or attempt to summon a cab.

The service has been consistently terrible since the very first day I took the line.

In general, the #13 bus is often late and is always overcrowded. I will point to two incidents, both occurring this week, which illustrate my concerns.

These instances are representative of the types of rides I encounter a few days every week since starting to ride this bus.

Doors Shut, Left Without Us

Last Wednesday, October 22nd, I arrived at the #13 bus stop on the corner of North Avenue and Charles Street heading east at 7:00 a.m. I waited till 7:40 a.m. before a bus finally came.

By the time it did arrive, a crowd of about 25 people had gathered to get on. However, the bus that had arrived was so full that the driver only allowed one person who was waiting on.

She then shut the doors and continued on her route without the rest of us.

Let me emphasize, this is not the first time that this has occurred to me. I was lucky enough to have the money to walk down three blocks and grab a cab. I was over an hour late for work that day.

Dodging Would-be Riders

Last Friday, October 24th, I waited for the #13 at 4:30 p.m. at the corner of Harford Road and North Avenue, heading west. About 12 people waited with me.

When the bus arrived all 12 of us packed on. The bus was so crowded that five of us had to stand in front of the yellow line next to the driver. (In plain view of the sign that states it is against federal law to stand in front of the yellow line).

Every seat on this bus was taken. Every inch of standing room was filled. The driver proceeded to skip the next three bus stops.

At each stop we passed dozens of people who were waiting. There was not a bus close behind us for them to grab.

When a passenger wanted to get off, the driver would pull over 100 yards before the bus stops to let passengers off, to ensure none of the anxious riders waiting at their stops for our overcrowded bus would attempt to get on. This is a common occurrence.

Hurting the Hurting Parts of Town

The city’s free Charm City Circulator buses, which run near the waterfront and in a few upscale areas, have been in the news lately over a possible fee charge as well as plans to expand service.

I’m trying to call attention to the severe dysfunction in the part of the city’s transit system that – unlike the Circulator – charges riders money and is supposed to serve the rest of Baltimore.

North Avenue, where the east-west #13 runs, connects some of the poorest parts of Baltimore. It cuts across our city’s midsection like an infected scar, with struggling neighborhoods to the north and south in quite poor shape along nearly the entire length.

There are abandoned houses and storefronts along most of the route I take. Many houses’ roofs are visibly caving in. Some, slightly less dilapidated homes have their boarded up windows and doors stamped with advertisements for the city’s Vacants to Value program.

I know the factors that caused this area of the city to fall into disrepair are numerous and complex. But surely, one factor that adds to this area’s woes is the poor state of the public transportation.

When the bus is late, or overcrowded, I and other riders like me are made late for our jobs, our appointments, our families and our lives.

A late bus is not simply an inconvenience, but a burden on the lives of those who rely on it. It is certainly a reason many lose employment, and it is certainly a reason many decide to leave the city if they can.

Rx for Troubled Route

The troubled bus route damages the quality of life for those with cars as well. It is also a deterrent to invest in the area.

Traveling along North Avenue, one sees crowds of people waiting for the bus. These crowds attract people trying to sell drugs, and are breeding grounds for conflicts and trouble of all sort. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and the people I wait with for the bus attempting to sell narcotics.

Whether waiting for the bus yourself or just driving by, this atmosphere causes people to stay clear of the area.

For my sake, for my fellow passengers sake, for the sake of those who live and work on North Avenue and for the sake of our city – please heed my plea and do whatever is in your power to improve the service of the #13 line.

Making the route safer and more reliable for transit users could have a healing effect that would spread further into the community.

Brian Levy, a legal fellow with the Public Defender’s Office, recently moved with his fiance to the Midtown-Belvedere neighborhood. He says he sent this email to the Maryland Transit Administration; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; City Councilmen Eric Costello, Nick Mosby and Carl Stokes; Maryland 40th District Delegates Frank M. Conway, Jr., Shawn Tarrant and Barbara Robinson; State Senator Catherine Pugh; U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings; and U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski.

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