ANNAPOLIS – Tonya Butler wants to work — it’s getting there that’s the problem.
The 23-year-old trainee in the state’s Welfare-to-Work program currently takes the #11 bus from her home in Landsdowne to the Light Rail train. After the train, she grabs another bus that takes her to the training office in Towson.
By the time Butler gets there, she has been on the road for four hours.
Same deal for Lashonda Bridgewater, 28, of Woodlawn, who walks 20 minutes just to get to the bus, then takes the subway to the Light Rail to another bus to the Welfare-to-Work training in Towson.
Butler and Bridgewater joined dozens of transit riders Tuesday in support of a Glendening administration bill that would boost state funding for the Mass Transit Administration by about $18 million next year.
The bill, heard in a joint meeting of the House Appropriations Committee and Ways and Means Committee, would reduce the amount of the operating budget that the MTA has to recoup from fares, lowering it from 50 percent to 40 percent. That change would essentially force the state to pick up the difference.
The Department of Legislative Services said the MTA has not recovered 50 percent of its fare-box subsidies since 1996 — and this year is not likely to be any better. Estimates for 2001 show a fare-box recovery rate of 43.5 percent.
Jamie Michael Kendrick of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association in Baltimore said the current 50 percent fare-box recovery target is simply too high, forcing the MTA to cut bus service.
“Bus service has taken a huge hit over the last five or six years,” Kendrick said, adding that Butler and Bridgewater have had to turn down “real” jobs because they physically could not get to them.
While bus service has taken the brunt of MTA budget cuts, it is one area that routinely generates more than its share of the fare-box subsidy, according to Legislative Services. Only MARC commuter trains do better, said the analysis, which said it is the Metro and Light Rail lines that are running well below the 50 percent recovery mark.
While advocates said the fare-box reduction bill is essential to the future of transit and will help restore service to existing routes, others say the bill, as written, will cost the state too much money.
Drew Cobbs, a former MTA employee, recommended that the committee decrease fare-box subsidies for the light rail and metro rail service — and leave the bus routes at 50 percent.
“What’s pulling the system down is the rail,” said Cobbs, who testified on his own behalf.
After the hearing, Butler and Bridgewater had a second dose of the mass transit blues that they came to Annapolis to fight. They missed their chartered bus back to Towson and had to take the #14 bus, a three-hour proposition, said Kendrick.