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Maryland Transit Administration preps for BaltimoreLink launch

Adapted from the Baltimore Business Journal

The Maryland Transit Administration is putting the final touches on Gov. Larry Hogan's $135 million overhaul of Baltimore's bus system set to go into effect in June, including an initiative providing two weeks of free fare.

The BaltimoreLink system features 12 color-coded, high-frequency CityLink routes that allow riders to get from any stop to another by only making one transfer, which differentiates from the current system that often requires at least a couple of changes to get to a desired destination.

Gov. Larry Hogan's alternative to the Red Line, the BaltimoreLink system, is set to launch on June 18.

Hogan unveiled the plan in October 2015 as an alternative to the Red Line rail project he nixed earlier that year. He characterized BaltimoreLink as a cost-effective transit plan that "makes economic sense," though it received criticism from Democrats, including Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said it fell short of doing enough for residents.

A study by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance also found shortcomings with Hogan's proposal, which the Republican governor's staff called "complete nonsense."

BaltimoreLink's routes all have connections to the light rail, metro and MARC trains to create what Paul Comfort, CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration, said will be a "completely integrated transit system." Currently, only some routes have connections.

In addition to the city routes, the overhauled system will include 15 neighborhood routes, called "LocalLink," which have been reconfigured to create more realistic time intervals.

Buses on the CityLink routes should arrive in 10-15 minute intervals, Comfort said, while intervals for LocalLink buses depends on the route.

"You should be able to go to any stop without looking at the schedule and be able to catch a bus within a few minutes," Comfort said.

The new stops will feature clearer signage with more information, including route destinations and the color codes. The buses themselves are also being redesigned. CityLink buses will have a design featuring the Baltimore skyline on the back while LocalLink buses will feature a "swoosh."

Infrastructure improvements are also coming. The Maryland Transit Administration is working with the city on creating bus-only lanes on Baltimore and Fayette streets. Construction is also beginning on a new transfer facility in West Baltimore and buses are being outfitted with "transit-signal priority" technology that will allow green lights to last longer for buses and reduce travel times.

The Maryland Transit Administration has ramped up its outreach to ensure riders are aware of all of the changes, Comfort said. For the first two weeks, from June 18-30, riders will be able to ride free. Currently, every day 30 so-called ambassadors are at various stops throughout the city answering questions and handing out information. On the buses themselves, there are audio announcements and maps available.

A few stops are being removed in areas where there are several stops within a few hundred feet of each other. If a stop is being removed, there is a big sign letting riders know.

Meantime, MTA fares will go up by 10 cents in June to $1.80. The increase is not related to the new system, Comfort said. State law requires the agency to raise fares by 10 cents every two years to coincide with increases in the Consumer Price Index.

The BaltimoreLink website has an interactive map that shows how the entire transit system connects together. There is also another map where riders can enter their starting point and destination to see how their trip will change from the current system to the new one.

MTA is hosting several "travel training" sessions at locations throughout Baltimore between April 24 and June 12. The full list of meetings can found here.

Throughout the process, MTA conducted 200 public meetings and collected more than 4,000 comments, including 1,000 from bus operators.

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