Local leaders from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, and Anne Arundel County yesterday issued a joint statement to express concerns over a proposal from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to cut its bus and MARC train service amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr., Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman called the proposal — which would cut bus service in the Baltimore region next year by 20% and pare back MARC train and Commuter Bus service — “a disappointing blow to the entire Baltimore metropolitan region and the many students, essential workers, and families who rely on public transportation each day.”
In a statement, MDOT MTA said the proposed cuts are part of a “multi-faceted approach across the department to manage the fiscal impact of COVID-19 through operating and capital budget reductions.”
“The financial impact created by the COVID-19 crisis has created an unparalleled challenge for transit agencies across the US and many are facing difficult decisions,” said Kevin Quinn, MDOT MTA Administrator. “MDOT MTA will continue to strive for a safe, reliable, and equitable transit system that provides an opportunity to all citizens in the Baltimore region.”
The proposed cuts amount to approximately $43 million, or 5 percent of the MTA’s operating budget for FY 2021, according to MDOT MTA.
But local leaders warn that the cuts could disproportionately impact the most vulnerable residents across the Baltimore region, and that slashing transit service will further harm local economies and businesses.
According to the joint statement:
Making cuts to an already underfunded system means students will struggle to get to and from school, even as the Governor advocates for a return to in-person learning as soon as possible. It means the essential workers, from cleaning staff to doctors and nurses, may not be able to reliably get to hospitals and medical facilities for their vital work during a public health emergency. It means more strain on our transit workers, who have been on the frontlines contending with COVID-19 in order to keep our region moving through these uncertain times.
We understand the deep ways COVID-19 has already and will continue to impact our local economies, we need to ensure that these cuts don’t disproportionately impact the most vulnerable members of our regional population. Making operational and capital budget cuts with no guarantee service will ever be restored is a significant concern. When workers at major regional employers rely on MTA to get to and from work, these cuts to service will further harm our local economies and businesses.
As leaders within the region, we will be evaluating these proposed reductions and service changes carefully over the coming days and weeks and will be prepared to offer detailed comments to the MTA in early October. We need more information from MDOT and regional employers to help determine the full impact of these cuts to service on our local economies and businesses. We call on all residents in the region to join their elected leaders in voicing opposition to these cuts during MTA’s public comment period.
Make no mistake about it: This decision will disproportionately impact our poor, Black and Brown residents, especially those living in historically-disinvested neighborhoods. Particularly during a public health emergency that continues to have devastating impacts, we should not seek to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.
MDOT MTA is one of the largest multi-modal transit systems in the United States. MDOT MTA operates a Local Bus and Commuter Bus network, as well as Light RailLink, Metro SubwayLink, MARC Train service, and a comprehensive Mobility paratransit system.
While funding from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has been critical to maintaining service for essential employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, MDOT MTA anticipates fully expending these funds by September 2020.
MDOT MTA in October will consider public feedback on the proposal in a series of 10 virtual public hearings. The 30-day public review and comment period will close on November 15.
More information on virtual public comment sessions can be found here.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.