In a letter emailed this afternoon, representatives of the 46th district urged the mayor and transportation director William Johnson to reject the “flawed Circulator reduction proposal” and find funding alternatives to preserve the free bus system as much as possible.
Taking exception to the slated July 20 abandonment of the Banner Route between downtown and Locust Point, Delegates Brooke Lierman, Luke Clippinger, Peter Hammen and State Senator William C. Ferguson IV outlined what they had done to preserve the popular but costly bus service.
They expressed concern that the Rawlings-Blake administration – faced with a $11.6 million cumulative deficit on the bus service – had failed to consider alternatives and was not taking public feedback on the reductions seriously.
The group, representing South and Southeast Baltimore, said they introduced budget language during the last legislative session that would have prevented the city from accessing $1 million of a $2 million state transit grant program if the city did not maintain the Banner Route in its current form.
But after negotiating with the Rawlings-Blake administration, the delegates backed off when they were told that “to restrict that large sum would risk the entire Circulator program.”
Baltimore DOT, they noted, said it was willing to work “in good faith” to come up with a plan to keep the Banner Route running – or at the very least covering the route with service by regular MTA buses.
“Based on this assurance, we modified the budget language,” the letter stated.
The final state budget includes language that restricted only $100,000 of funds designated for the Circulator.
MORE ON CHARM CITY CIRCULATOR
• Circulator extension to Charles Village, end of Banner Route set for next month (June 11, 2015)
• Consultant advice: Ditch dud Circulator buses before contract is rebid (June 3, 2015)
• A band aid to stop the bleeding, but no road map for Circulator’s future (May 6, 2015)
• Former head of Charm City Circulator pleads guilty to bribery (December 17, 2014)
That restriction, however, requires the city and MTA to execute a memorandum of understanding in which the city agrees either to maintain the operations of Circulator routes similar to its current routes, or that the MTA and the city submit a report by August 1 on the feasibility of enhancing MTA bus service to the Banner Route area in the event that route was discontinued.
The delegates said that after a May 21 meeting, state DOT officials said they were unaware of the issues related to the Banner Route. The “only outreach to MTA that we are aware of has been done by us – not Baltimore City DOT,” the letter said.
Given their hopes that the Banner Route was still under discussion, the delegates said they “were surprised” when Baltimore DOT director Johnson “presented the closure of the Banner Route as a near fait accompli.”
The delegates said they followed up with the mayor’s office and asked for the full Circulator consultant study, which “the department did ultimately release to us.”
To ensure that 46th district residents were informed of the consultants’ findings, the delegates sent the study to area community associations, so residents were aware of recommendations and alternatives.
Feedback or “Check the Box”?
The letter noted that the upcoming public meetings in July to discuss the Circulator changes – scheduled a week or so before changes will take effect – will allow almost no time for DOT to process feedback and evaluate the concerns of impacted neighborhoods.
Nor does it respect the needs of residents. “People lead busy lives,” the letter said. “To ask them to take time to attend a meeting that can have no influence over a decision would simply be rubbing salt in the wound.”
“We sincerely hope that the sessions that DOT has planned throughout District 46” are not merely pro-forma meetings to “check the box.”