ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Wednesday approved a bill that could stabilize fares for users of Maryland Transit Administration bus, light rail and Baltimore-area Metro services.
The bill, which passed 34 to 13 and would not affect the Washington-area Metro service, would maintain current standards requiring Maryland Transit Administration programs to recoup at least 40 percent of operating costs, said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore.
“I’m very pleased that the Senate moved on the bill,” she said.
Mass transit receives large state subsidies and the measure ensures that funding will remain at a consistent level, rather than pushing costs onto users, McIntosh said.
Had the bill failed, the Transit Administration’s programs would have had to recoup at least 50 percent of operating costs — leading to higher fares.
The bill, co-sponsored by two other Baltimore Democrats, Delegates Clarence Davis and Salima Marriott, extends a similar measure approved four years ago and would remain effective until June 2008.
McIntosh said she is unaware of any discrepancies between the legislation passed by the Senate and House and now hopes the bill gets Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s approval.
Before the Senate passed the bill, several legislators criticized the measure and argued over proper use of transportation funding.
Some said Maryland needs to improve transit systems to alleviate traffic and road woes across the state, using Europe’s systems as models for successful mass transit.
The solution, other lawmakers argued, is to build more roads.
Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County, said the way to get people out of their cars is to build more roads. The light rail’s low ridership is a common joke in his community, he said.
“We’ve got to stop pouring money where it doesn’t belong,” Harris said. “The money should go to roads, and that’s what this bill doesn’t do.”
Mass transit and more active forms of transportation, such as walking or biking, would benefit Marylanders’ health, said Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s.
“We’re not going to be able to build enough roads or lay enough concrete” to beat the transportation problems, Currie said. “In order to solve our transportation problems we must get people out of their automobiles.”
Others argued that increased funding for mass transit should be accompanied by more facilities to encourage people to ride more trains and buses.
“The system is there and we need this bill as well as the Inter-county Connector,” said Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, who suggested building more parking lots to house commuter vehicles at train and bus stations.
But the state can’t ignore one or the other when it comes to funding mass transit or road projects, said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery.
“I want roads. We absolutely need them,” Ruben said, adding that there is little money for either cause given the state’s expected budget shortfall of $1 billion in fiscal year 2006.