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Make regional public transportation worth the trip

Reaching The Examiner office can be quite an adventure. I have two choices to make my way downtown: I can drive or use the Light Rail — neither of which appeals.

Driving from the Timonium area of Baltimore County to the Inner Harbor takes about 20 minutes if traffic is good — good meaning nonexistent. The Light Rail takes an hour both ways — on a glitch-free day.

Those of us who use public transportation all have our own horror stories.

I had one of my own recently. Setting out one afternoon for my hour-long journey back to the suburbs, I approached a ticket machine to pay for a ride home. As I came closer to the machine, I found the screen black. Odd, I thought. Moving to the next machine, I found another black screen. The last machine worked, sort of. When I attempted to buy a single-trip ticket, the machine wouldn’t let me purchase anything other than a $64 monthly pass.

So I did what I’d never done before — I entered the train without buying a ticket. Fear pumped through my veins, but it was misplaced. As always, no one checked for tickets.

Fifty minutes later and after nearly running over a bus, we approached Hunt Valley, my stop. At that moment our conductor told us the train needed to turn around, so we proceeded to Timonium, where he directed passengers to a new train that would take us to Hunt Valley. Another fifteen minutes later I finally reached my destination.

The parking lots for Light Rail stations prove just as bad. Poorly lit and a dwelling for criminals, these parking lots are monitored by a sporadic police presence. Someone recently stabbed to death a 17-year-old girl after she exited the Light Rail while her 16-year-old brother was pinned to the ground.

With Baltimore facing an increasing traffic problem and driving during rush hour expected to take 75 percent longer in future years, public transportation is imperative.

We have a subway system in Baltimore that is nearly obsolete, that I in fact wasn’t even aware of until a few months ago. And buses no longer travel from the city to surrounding counties, making Light Rail use mandatory for its 32,000 daily users.

Although former Governor Robert Ehrlich has taken steps to improve such problems, it hasn’t been enough. After building a second track and $210 million later, the Light Rail still leisurely swerves its way through Baltimore.

Governor Martin O’Malley faces a challenge when he takes office this January. Increased demands for conservation due to global warming and the potential for even higher energy prices will make public transportation more attractive to Maryland residents, not to mention increased road congestion.

A recent report by the Texas Transportation Institute ranked Baltimore 16th nationally in terms of congestion, up from 29th a few years ago — with population and traffic only expected to increase. O’Malley will need to lead the way with the Department of Transportation by improving public transportation with a more complex subway system, longer bus routes, and improved security to handle the increased commuter loads on the roads.

Since initial construction in 1997, the Light Rail has sucked down more than $816 million, yet the same complaints still remain: The Light Rail has to stop at traffic lights, no direct connection to the subway is provided, tracks are left open to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and the ride takes twice as long than vehicular travel in even the worst conditions.

Until the day rush-hour traffic becomes a vague memory and rivers flow with free gasoline, I’ll continue to endure the prolonged ride home. But perhaps with a bit of luck, the charm of “Charm City” may finally find its way to my train and I’ll no longer have to count the pieces of gum stuck to the seat in front of me.

Justin Snow is an editorial page intern at The Baltimore Examiner. He can be reached at

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