SUN INVESTIGATES How Guinness almost didn’t get MTA service
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.