Riders Challenge Bus Service Cuts
When transit officials are forced to cut back on service, they say they pick reductions that will harm the least number of people. At a public hearing in Rockville last night, a portion of those least told the transit officials that they count, too.
Montgomery County is considering a plan to cut five weekday routes, five Saturday routes and three Sunday routes starting July 5. Two other routes have segments that are proposed for elimination, the frequency of service on two more would be reduced evening service would be reduced on six more.
The county says the routes have relatively few riders and that in many cases there are other buses those people can take. The riders who attended the hearing challenged that on every count. (And by the way, almost all of them think they're being under counted. They note the number of times they board buses only to find that the fare box isn't working, or there is no fare box at all. They say Montgomery County would get a better count or riders, as well as more money, if it would send out more buses with working fare boxes.)
The best organized challenge came from riders who use the Route 53 bus, a peak period service between the Shady Grove and Glenmont stations on Metro's Red Line. Most of those challenging the cut live in Olney. They said they need the 53 to from their upcounty community to work. One man said he is legally blind and can't make it to another bus stop.
Others said they have no realistic transit alternative to the 53, because they don't own cars. (The existence of a bus line is a rather thin reed on which to hang a housing decision. This comes up in the debate over whether the Purple Line should be a bus service or light rail train. Maryland hopes that development will cluster around the Purple Line stops, but developers would be reluctant to make plans based on something as movable, or as removeable, as a bus route.)
Some who do have cars said they would be forced to drive down Georgia Avenue to the Glenmont Station. This does two bad things: It adds to the traffic on Georgia -- like anybody needs to do that -- and it adds to the parking problems at Glenmont.
There were many other passionate defenses of individual bus routes last night. Among them: People fighting elimination of Route 3, a peak period service between Takoma and Silver Spring stations via Dale Drive, point out that this is the only bus that runs along Dale, which has no sidewalks. Those riders would have to walk to Georgia Avenue or Colesville Road to reach other buses.
Most people who testify at hearings like this do so in personal terms: This is what the cuts would mean to me.
Ben Ross, who represents two citizens groups called Transit First! and the Action Committee for Transit, made the case for all riders in saying that the cutbacks are "not necessary." Instead of eliminating $4.8 million in transit service, he said, the county should redirect the $8 million (derived from parking fines) that it uses to subsidize the cost of parking at its garages. Instead of helping to keep cars on the road, Ross said, the county should use that money to help get more people on transit.
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