|One of the new fleet of Charm City Nova buses (Photo Philipsen)|
The Transit Bureau is responsible for the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) transit programs including the Charm City Circulator, Harbor Connector, Bikeshare, Rideshare Programs and Transit & Marine Services (Dockmaster’s Office). BC-DOT website
|Short lived: Bewegen Bike share station (Photo:|
|SPIN Scooters licensed by the City are required to be also placed in the|
Black Butterfly (Photo: Philipsen)
|Failed retail downtown: After COVID downtown |
will never be the same (Photo: Philipsen)
- Downtown will never be the same again: demand for office work located there will remain weakened. Depending on forecasts, between 10-30% of office workers will never return.
- This puts downtown retail and restaurants into a tail spin, further depleting transit demand there.
- Overall, traffic and travel patterns become more dispersed geographically and by time of day essentially turning "rush hour" into an all day event. The dispersed demand is harder to meet with transit.
Considering all of this history and the attractive portfolio it would be quite interesting to see how a modern DOT transit office would position itself in the next 5-10 years and how they would differentiate themselves vis-à-vis the more traditional MTA transit.
•How should city transit be funded?To answer this it is useful to recall the Circulator he water taxi was a service licensed by the city. Since then the bus service was expanded to the point it requires each year general funds to sustain it. The Connector also bleeds money. Bikeshare and the scooter services as well as the water taxi are supposed to be revenue sources helping to keep the mobility fleet afloat. The good news is, scooters seem to recover quickly after COVID in spite of a still reeling downtown.
•What is the division of labor between MTA and DOT?
BC-DOT and MTA need to closely cooperate in this environment to not cannibalize each other , to create synergy and towards an end to end menu of mobility options in the spirit of Mobility as a Service. It should help that the MTA will shortly come out with its own Strategic Plan, a fisrt for the agency. Cannibalizing of the Collegetown and apartment shuttles crisscrossing the city needs to also end and those riderships need to be consolidated into one commonly funded system
How viable is the water taxi? How does it relate to the free Connector Service? What is the vision?
The first question is closely related to the future of Baltimore and how attractive it will be for visitors. The second answer is simpler: Operationally it makes much more sense to combine these services without distinguishing the boats and branding, a requirement that comes from the City.
Free tickets can easily be arranged for workers that use the service as commuters.
The extension to the Middle Branch would offer additional utility for residents and commuters. A fast commuter line should start at a park and ride terminal at Canton Crossing and intercept some of the east west traffic overburdening Boston, Fleet/Aliceanna Streets.
It makes no sense to exclude anybody from a boat that is running, anyway, no matter when or where. Conversely, it may make sense to operate the water taxi as a on-demand service instead of a semi-fixed schedule service.
BC-DOT manages the water of the Inner Harbor via their Dockmaster, and wharfage fees, revenue sources that can support the water transit services. Likely there are untapped synergies. Then there is the issue of the docks, ie. the landside stop facilities for the water transit. They are as important for the experience as the boat itself and they are currently very skimpy, not unified and as far as information goes, a puzzle for potential riders. The docks could act as pearls on the string that is "the promenade", have amenities such as shelters and benches, real time arrival info and at least some should be hubs connecting to the Circulator and MTA services and offer bikes and scooter right there.
•Is the circulator operating optimally? What is the 5 year perspective?
The Circulator has suffered from mission creep. But a downtown with fewer employees, a future of automated fleet vehicles without a need for parking require to put the service on a new footing. Maybe as a hyper local service that is free and frequent and equitably serves residents, commuters and visitors in downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods.
A service plan should either be based on extensive stakeholder participation or the City should give up being so prescriptive. If orescribed service and budget don't align, one option is to ask the operators how much service they can offer for a given budget and let them compete over service rather than price.
The current routes seem to make little sense: The Purple Route is too long and duplicates too many other bus services. The Banner Route duplicates MTA bus 95 and was originally based on a time limited grant. If the service remains it should connect to the water/Connector dock at Hull Street and serve Tide Point/Under Armour. The Green Route looks very "gerrymandered". It needs a clear purpose. For example, it could become a northern east-west route connecting Middle East with Pennsylvania Avenue via Mount Vernon/Seton Hill. The current north south route portion on Broadway could be a separate second north south route and connect up to North Avenue.
|The Circulator map shows that the service dominates in |
the "white L" and that the green route has a chaotic
•How can bike and scooter share be supportive of the bus and water services?
What does it take for DOT to truly manage this portfolio?
DOT embarked on a Strategic Transportation Plan under Director Sharkey's predecessor Pourciau. It has been pretty quiet around the progress of that plan. A focused Strategic Plan for the Transit Bureau could be a jump-starter and model for the rest of the department. By the way, MTA also posted its own first ever strategic plan.
This article is based on a presentation I gave to the Advocacy group Transit Choices on 9//23/21. That presentation can be found here.