Thursday, September 15, 2005

Transportation troubles...

Oh, what to make of this

The state's Mass Transit Administration is trying to negotiate "a new kind of service" for Baltimore residents who need transportation to jobs in suburbs such as Howard County, state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday.

A system of passenger vans, financed by tax credits for employers and fares paid by employees, could help workers who depend on lightly used, inefficient bus routes, Flanagan said, though no deals have been struck.

This may be a good approach to transportation problems in the interim, but it won’t work for very long. Indeed, without any significant action, our public transportation needs are going to become dire in a few years, and not because of increasing gas prices.

For a suburban community, Howard County has a lot of jobs, over 130,000, and that figure is surely going to rise. However, only 38 percent of county residents work here, while the rest commute to DC or Baltimore. Why? Because that’s were they have to go to earn enough money to live in this county, with its median household income of over $82,000 (almost twice that of the US as a whole).

Almost 80,000 people commute into Howard County each day to work. Many of them, presumably, fill the low-wage jobs that our community needs to function properly. I’m sure some prefer to live elsewhere, but a large portion of these inbound commuters would surely like to live in this county, if they could afford to, which they can’t. And, with housing prices rising and not likely to fall (ever), we will rely more and more on residents of neighboring counties to fill the jobs Howard Countians can’t afford to take.

So, we need to find a better way to get an increasing number of commuters into this county. The approach proposed by Secretary Flanagan might be a temporary solution, but as Howard County employment grows, we’ll need something better.

I don’t think extending subways or the light rail are viable options. Nor are scattershot bus routes. Instead, we need a more integrated approach to transportation, and it starts at home.

Our current county bus system is about as inefficient as it gets. Yes, it’s fairly inexpensive to ride, but most buses I see are empty, probably because of poorly-designed routes (I live and work in Columbia—about an eight-minute commute—but by bus it would take me almost an hour). Creating a better transportation system in the county would, I think, go a long way to making the commute into this county easier. One way would be to create more centralized hubs and efficient express routes to all of our primary employment centers, which would allow regional transportation systems to better integrate into our local one.

Or, we could try expanding our affordable housing opportunities, but that’s a story for another day.

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