The shutdown of Baltimore’s entire Baltimore Metro system began at midnight, February 8. Many riders, like Sophia Love, who were caught off guard by the interruption of service scrambled to get to work that morning. “At first there was no shuttle bus,” said Love who initially was forced to catch two buses to get from the Upton station in West Baltimore, to the University of Maryland Medical Center downtown.
For the last two weeks, public transportation in Baltimore has been an ordeal for many because of the shutdown. “I’ve been late going to work, because when the shuttle bus does come, sometimes no one gets off and it’s overcrowded,” Love said of the substitute shuttles that arrive to pick up passengers from closed metro stations at 20 minute intervals.
Each shuttle holds 40 people, and passengers are not allowed to stand in the aisles as they would on regular buses during peak periods. “I’ve had to wait for as many as two or three shuttles to come by before I get on,” Love said.
After abruptly shutting down the Metro subway link, the MTA publicly announced the system shut down the next day and hurried to put shuttle buses in place to transport the system’s daily ridership of more than 17,000 people.
The makeshift shuttle bus substitutes, requested by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, were not staged until February 11, when Gov. Larry Hogan announced $2.2 million in emergency funding for local transport. Shuttle service will continue through March 11, the scheduled date for completion of repairs to the aging rail transit system run by the State of Maryland.
MTA shuttle buses are free and scheduled to run every 20 minutes from all Metro stations. Six stations, Owings Mills, Milford Mill, Mondawmin, State Center, Charles Center and Johns Hopkins are on an express bus line while , while passengers needing to stop at other stations, such as Lexington Market, must use the MTA’s replacement local shuttle service.
Riders complained that local stops are often overcrowded, even during non-peak hours. “You got people fighting to get on the shuttle buses. I’ve been late to my destination a whole lot of times,” said John Hairston of Park Heights.
“Three shuttles came past here and none of them stopped. When the third one did stop, only one rider could get on because it was full,” said Hairston, who was waiting to travel downtown from West Baltimore.
Ernest Simmons, who waited at the Lexington Market Station after work on a shuttle bus to take him Uptown, said the conditions surrounding the closure, the process used and the replacement shuttles are all intolerable.
“This is horrible, even with the bus links. The governor doesn’t use public transportation so he doesn’t know what it’s like,” said Simmons.
“It would have been fine if they would have made the announcement before the subway was closed, but it was not made until after the subway was shut down,” Simmons said. “That’s simply unacceptable.”
A Maryland Department of Transportation Inspection of the rail transit system conducted in 2015, projected that the rails would be safe for operation through summer 2018, MDOT said. However in a Feb. 15 press release, MDOT said a routine inspections in early February determined the elevated track from Owings Mills to West Cold Spring would need to be closed for several weeks to replace track in advance of the planned summer replacement project. MDOT officials then decided to close the entire system.
However the inspection report indicated that officials were aware of the unsafe rails as early a 2016. MDOT continued to run trains at lower speeds to avoid the $1.5 million needed to fix the rail transit system.
Gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea has requested Peter Rahn, Maryland Transportation Secretary resign in the wake of the transit debacle.