More than five dozen advocacy groups are calling on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater and Maryland Transit Administrator Kevin Quinn to stop proposed cuts to bus and rail service in the Baltimore region next year.
Due to the decline in ridership and revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic, the MTA proposed cuts that would halt 25 local bus routes and six MARC trains.
Maryland Department of Transportation officials said they had to absorb nearly $3 billion in lost revenue.
Forty percent of transit commuters in Baltimore City and 35% of transit riders in Maryland are essential job workers, according to TransitCenter, a national transit advocacy organization based in New York. Hospital and health care workers make up the largest share of riders in the state, according to TransitCenter.
Making it more difficult for hospital staff, grocery store workers and social service providers who rely on public transit to get to work during a pandemic is dangerous, advocates wrote in a letter to state officials on Tuesday. It would strain the already overwhelmed healthcare system and exacerbate the precarious economy caused by the pandemic.
“Rather than take steps to relieve the strain of a veritable tsunami of challenges to Maryland’s most vulnerable communities, MTA’s plan would exacerbate residents’ difficulties and hobble the state’s recovery,” the 64 organizations wrote.
Instead, Maryland should commit more for public transportation to increase access to job centers from low-income communities, communities of color and for people with disabilities, advocates wrote. Rather than investing in highway expansion, public transportation ― which is more affordable and environmentally friendly ― deserves greater attention, advocates wrote.
“We should be prioritizing cleaner transportation alternatives that reduce pollution and the health conditions that make marginalized communities especially vulnerable to the impacts of coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses like asthma,” advocates wrote.
More people will take public transportation if the state makes it easier, more affordable and more pleasant, Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG director, and Kate Breimann, director of Environment Maryland, wrote in separate letter to Hogan, MTA and MDOT. “Ultimately, the future of transportation is about rescuing Marylanders from the nightmare transportation has become. It’s about expanding our choices, while losing fewer lives to traffic jams, car accidents and toxic fumes.”
The proposal also eliminates the only two public routes from Baltimore City to Annapolis, which hampers Marylanders’ participation in the state legislature, the advocates argued. “Public participation is always essential to a free and fair government, but never more so than in a crisis,” they wrote.
“Now is not the time to disinvest in transit. As we respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and work to safely reopen and recover, we must do so in a way that moves Maryland forward to improve our health, builds stronger communities, and creates accessible, safe ways to get around,” Scarr and Breimann wrote.