Rawl­ings-Blake de­fers po­ten­tial cuts to Cir­cu­la­tor

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Alexan­der Pyles apyles@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/aapyles

Bal­ti­more Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ingsBlake will let the next mayor de­cide what to do with the un­der­funded Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor, which had been slated for cuts.

In July, Rawl­ings-Blake’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed scal­ing back the free bus ser­vice, af­ter the City Coun­cil de­clined to pay for it by in­creas­ing the park­ing tax at Bal­ti­more’s pub­lic garages.

The mayor said Fri­day the ser­vice will “likely” need to be re­duced, but that she won’t do it in the wan­ing days of her ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Any changes to the Cir­cu­la­tor sys­tem will likely have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the next ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get,” Rawl­ingsBlake said in a state­ment. “I will present the next ad­min­is­tra­tion with the best and most cur­rent in­for­ma­tion to al­low the next mayor to make an in­formed de­ci­sion on the Cir­cu­la­tor’s fu­ture op­er­a­tions.”

The mayor said her suc­ces­sor should part­ner with the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is over­haul­ing the city’s com­muter bus sys­tem un­der a pro­gram called Bal­ti­moreLink.

She hopes a new ser­vice con­tract for the Cir­cu­la­tor, cur­rently un­der re­view, will “pro­vide ef­fi­cien­cies to avoid im­ple­ment­ing the pro­posed worst-case-sce­nario ser­vice cuts.”

Once the bid process is com­plete, she said, the city will have a bet­ter idea how much the sys­tem will cost. Ve­o­lia Trans­porta­tion has run the Cir­cu­la­tor since the ser­vice’s in­cep­tion in 2009.

Rawl­ings-Blake’s ini­tial pro­posal would have elim­i­nated in Jan­uary the Ban­ner route be­tween the In­ner Har­bor and Lo­cust Point and would have can­celed the north­ern ex­pan­sion of the Pur­ple route to the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity, which be­gan about a year ago.

Af­ter po­ten­tial cuts were an­nounced, the mayor said she “heard from pas­sion­ate res­i­dents who want to keep the cur­rent Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor sys­tem in­tact.”

“I am proud of the ser­vice the Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor pro­vides and un­der­stand the con­cerns of the com­mu­nity,” she said.

City Coun­cil­man Eric Costello cheered Rawl­ings-Blake’s de­ci­sion to de­lay po­ten­tial cuts to the Cir­cu­la­tor. The Ban­ner route serves his district.

“The Cir­cu­la­tor has been a shin­ing ex­am­ple of how pub­lic trans­porta­tion should work with re­li­able, safe, and clean ser­vice,” Costello said. “It ... has con­verted many car-re­liant res­i­dents into reg­u­lar Cir­cu­la­tor rid­ers.”

It’s the sec­ond time Rawl­ings-Blake pro­posed cut­ting the bus ser­vice and then de­cided against it.

In May 2015, her ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed cut­ting the Ban­ner route and re­duc­ing ser­vice on the Green and Or­ange routes, which con­nect East and West Bal­ti­more to down­town. By July of that year, she an­nounced plans to con­tinue the ser­vice with far fewer re­duc­tions.

The mayor in­cluded $6 mil­lion in this year’s bud­get that would pay to con­tinue the routes, but the money was con­tin­gent on the City Coun­cil agree­ing to a 4 per­cent in­crease in the park­ing tax.

Rawl­ings-Blake’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to in­crease the tax in May. The bill has not re­ceived a hear­ing.

City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other coun­cil mem­bers have op­posed the in­crease.

The Cir­cu­la­tor costs the city about $14 mil­lion per year. It is funded by state and other grants, and by the sale of ad­ver­tis­ing on the buses. The sys­tem has also re­ceived fed­eral fund­ing. More than 4 mil­lion peo­ple use the Cir­cu­la­tor each year.

City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott has ad­vo­cated charg­ing $1 a ride to off­set the ser­vice’s cost. Op­po­nents of that plan say charg­ing fare would rob the Cir­cu­la­tor of its ap­peal, caus­ing rid­er­ship to de­crease.

Demo­crat Cather­ine E. Pugh, Repub­li­can Alan Walden, Green Party can­di­date Joshua Har­ris and a slew of write-in can­di­dates — in­clud­ing for­mer Mayor Sheila Dixon — are run­ning for mayor. Dixon launched the Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor dur­ing her pre­vi­ous term.

Elec­tion Day is Nov. 8 and the next ad­min­is­tra­tion will take of­fice in De­cem­ber. Rawl­ings-Blake did not seek re­elec­tion.

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