Speak up for better transit

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) gets wide-ranging feedback from our riders each and every day, some good and some bad, but the MTA has not done a comprehensive review of its service routes and schedules in nearly a decade. Most transit agencies perform such reviews every three to five years.

That's why I met with the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) last week to outline a key initiative in the Transit Modernization Program (TMP) — an all-inclusive, strategic effort the agency is taking to improve public transit, including technology upgrades, new bus shelters, an overhaul of trains and buses, greater connectivity, station enhancements and more.

The first initiative of the TMP for the Baltimore region is the Bus Network Improvement Project, which will focus specifically on the planning and operations of the MTA's bus network, as well as on how the network intersects with and supports our Light Rail, Metro subway and MARC. To be completed in eight months, this initiative seeks to ensure the Baltimore region will have an integrated transit system that provides access for families of all socioeconomic backgrounds to important resources like hospitals, educational institutions and job centers, and that aligns service with new housing and job-growth sectors.

In order to achieve these objectives, the MTA is integrating its plans with those of its regional partners, such as the city of Baltimore, which is currently revising its zoning code through the "Rewrite Baltimore Campaign" (www.rewritebaltimore.org). The MTA also will coordinate with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's plan for sustainable development, due in 2015.

The MTA is already compiling data on regional population densities, employment centers, ridership activity and service performance. This month, the MTA will launch a website to host an open dialogue about what works in the bus system, what kind of system is wanted, and what kind of improvements (short- and long-term) are needed. In October, the MTA will continue public engagement with a series of workshops as well as some unannounced visits to major transit hubs to get face-to-face feedback. Starting in December, the MTA will review the suggestions and begin compiling recommendations to improve local bus service.

By April, these data and feedback will be compiled into a set of recommendations that will be presented to the public for comment and additional feedback. Public hearings will occur between May and June. Initial improvements will become effective in the fall of 2014, with other improvements planned for subsequent years.

The Baltimore region is poised to have the modern and comprehensive transit system that residents, businesses, civic leaders and transit advocates have long hoped for and worked toward. The Bus Network Improvement Project is an important first step.

The Baltimore Red Line also is critical to a comprehensive transit network. The Red Line provides the key east-west connection to north-south rail, Metro subway and MARC. Pending funding, construction could start as early as 2015 and be open for service by 2021, with nearly 54,000 potential daily riders by 2030 connecting to the upgraded bus network. A revitalized bus system is crucial to connect commuters to employment centers, hospitals, restaurants, sports venues and cultural districts because our bus network must support the expansion and use of public transportation. To deliver an effective bus network, public transportation must get people where they want to go.

As we begin a thorough review of our bus system, we need to keep in mind the need to involve our riders, neighborhoods, business leaders, elected officials and stakeholders, and all who are committed to delivering an efficient transit network for Central Maryland.

We invite you to help shape our success by participating in the public engagement opportunities of the Bus Network Improvement Project. Now is the time to speak up for the transit system the public deserves. We plan to listen, and then we plan to act.

Robert L. Smith is administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration. His email is rsmith25@mta.maryland.gov.