SUN IN­VES­TI­GATES How Guin­ness al­most didn’t get MTA ser­vice

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By Colin Camp­bell

Less than six months be­fore the Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan of­fer­ing bus ser­vice to the Guin­ness Open Gate Brew­ery in Bal­ti­more County in Septem­ber, the plan nearly fell through.

The beer maker’s re­quest to ex­tend the Ci­tyLink Yel­low ser­vice about a mile down Wash­ing­ton Boule­vard to its first Amer­i­can brew­ery hit a snag: its par­ent com­pany, Di­a­geo, did not want a bus stop on its prop­erty, ac­cord­ing to emails ob­tained by The Bal­ti­more Sun through a pub­li­crecords re­quest.

“Di­a­geo is not open to hav­ing the [bus] lay­over on our site/prop­erty,” wrote Bren­dan W. Henne, the brew­ery’s guest op­er­a­tions man­ager, in an email to the MTA on Feb. 26. “If we were able to come to an agree­ment that the lay­over would re­main on site to a con­tracted and fi­nite pe­riod of time, [that] would be the only pos­si­ble way to open the con­ver­sa­tion once more.”

The emails pro­vide a be­hind-the-scenes look at how the bus ser­vice ex­ten­sion — a 12-month pilot — came into ex­is­tence. It added nine round trips to the brew­ery in Re­lay on week­days, seven on Satur­days and six on Sun­days. The south­west part of the Yel­low Line runs from down­town to Halethorpe, with a pair of other spurs to the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County and the Pat­ap­sco Av­enue Park and Ride.

Jim Ports, the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion’s then-deputy sec­re­tary for op­er­a­tions, asked MTA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Kevin Quinn and chief of staff James Gil­lece in Oc­to­ber 2018 to look into pro­vid­ing the ser­vice ex­ten­sion.

Ports, who now heads the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity, said he had re­ceived the re­quest for ser­vice from “ob­vi­ously some­body in­volved with Guin­ness” but couldn’t re­mem­ber who.

“They asked if we could have a bus route go to the plant for the work­ers,” he said in an in­ter­view this week. “I said, ‘Let me look into it. I don’t know.’ ”

Eigh­teen em­ploy­ees from 13 Bal­ti­more­area

zip codes had been tak­ing public trans­porta­tion to the brew­ery be­fore the bus ser­vice ex­ten­sion, Guin­ness told the MTA in its pro­posal. The MTA also took into ac­count the brew­ery’s roughly 200 em­ploy­ees and 400,000 visi­tors as of late Au­gust, Quinn said in an in­ter­view.

The route ex­ten­sion to Guin­ness had 1,967 rid­ers per week in Septem­ber, Quinn said. “Those are some pretty good num­bers,” he added.

But the brew­ery’s re­sis­tance to host­ing a bus stop nearly stopped the bus.

Ex­tend­ing ser­vice to Open Gate with­out a place for driv­ers to turn buses around, wait for pas­sen­gers and use a re­stroom would be “in­fea­si­ble,” wrote Tom He­witt, MTA’s di­rec­tor of ser­vice devel­op­ment, in an email to Quinn on Feb. 26. Nei­ther the state nor Bal­ti­more County planned to buy land and build a new bus stop for Guin­ness, he noted.

“If Guin­ness doesn’t play ball, can we just say no to the ser­vice?” He­witt asked. “I know Jim Ports was ask­ing about this so is there a way we can get ad­di­tional pres­sure through MDOT for a long term tem­po­rary lay­over[?]”

Quinn’s re­sponse didn’t an­swer ei­ther ques­tion, but he re­quested a “very ba­sic map that shows how Guin­ness is at the end of the line and why ge­o­graph­i­cally we need it as a lay­over.”

Ab­sent a bus stop, he said in an in­ter­view, the MTA’s po­si­tion was: “Well, we’re not go­ing to pro­vide the ser­vice, then.”

Ports said he told Guin­ness of­fi­cials in a fol­low-up call that bus driv­ers “ab­so­lutely need” a place to wait, re­stroom fa­cil­i­ties and a “loop of some kind” to turn around.

Guin­ness agreed on May 8 to host the bus stop, ac­cord­ing to the emails.

The buses could pick up and drop off rid­ers ad­ja­cent to the brew­ery and use a far cor­ner of its park­ing lot for lay­overs dur­ing the morn­ing and day­time. Bus driv­ers would be al­lowed to use the guard shack’s re­stroom. And af­ter 11 p.m., buses would wait on the park­ing lot’s cir­cle, closer to the brew­ery, as a safety pre­cau­tion.

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