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Q and A

Q and A: Jessica Keller, Director of Service Development, MTA

Jessica Keller, Director of Service Development at MTA, took time out of her busy schedule to respond to some questions about living car free and bus service in Baltimore.  And here is a special treat; a Google Earth KML file of every transit route in the city! (some routes may be somewhat outdated, so go to mta.maryland.gov to double check).

Also, a quick bus related link from The Transport Politic discussing the most efficient bus rapid transit alignments – Alternative Alignments for Corridor Cities Transitway and Reaching Town Centers

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How long have you been living without a car? What has the experience been like?

I have been car free for nearly three years and quite happy living without it. I walk or take the bus everywhere – I used to have a bike but it was stolen a year and a half ago. I don’t miss my SUV but I miss my bike dearly, especially during rush hour on Pratt Street. Living without a car was trouble-free until 4 months ago when I gave birth to my son. The amount of planning I must do in advance of leaving the house has increased exponentially. I will have to write a follow-up on being car-free with kids later.

I am fortunate that I do not punch a clock; I don’t know how people who do manage keeping a job. I have a bus transfer in my commute so it is very unpredictable. I live 3.5 miles away from my office and sometimes it can take an hour and a half to get to work. This is why I miss my bike.

As Director of Service Development at MTA, what are some of the things you most want to improve about MTA’s bus service?

I think the title is a little misleading, let me tell you about my office (as copied from the MTA’s web site):

The Office of Service Development develops routes and schedules for MTA’s local bus service.

Baltimore’s strong local bus ridership translates into heavy loads that fluctuate throughout the day. We develop schedules to meet this demand, making sure that there are enough buses to connect passengers to their destinations throughout the service area, as well as to other MTA modes.

We also monitor the performance of local bus service by:

· Modifying routes to serve new trip generators, such as retail locations, schools, and community centers.

· Updating bus destination signs and on-board announcement systems.

· Determining bus stop placement.

· Conducting ridership collection and analysis for federally required reports

I have little influence over the day-to-day service, if I did, it wouldn’t take me an hour and a half to get to work. I am obviously dedicated to alternative transportation – I don’t HAVE to take the bus. This leads to what I would like to see happen with the system. I want to increase ridership. The only way to do that, in my mind, is to appeal to choice riders like myself. The general perception is that public transportation is a welfare program and I can understand that perception, after all, it is subsidized. But isn’t the money used to build new roads subsidizing car drivers as well?

So back to my point about appealing to the choice rider – if we get the choice riders on the bus and they LIKE it then the choice riders will demand more (service, quality etc.) which means they will force the politicians to allocate more money to the system. Once the money comes, we can increase service and quality to everyone, not just the choice riders and not just the captive riders. If we take the approach to increase ridership by aiming efforts to captive riders then we (public transportation agencies) have to go with our hands out and ask for more resources…..and fight for them. This second approach fuels the perception of public transportation as a welfare program, not a sustainability program.

You were the chief of BCDOT’s Planning Division before working for MTA. What is the city doing to promote sustainable transportation?

This is a loaded question. I am sure I will get some negative feedback for my answer: I don’t think the political will exists [yet] in the City to truly embrace sustainable transportation. There have been some great steps in the right direction. I love the bus/bike only lanes but they aren’t enforced and drivers don’t respect them. I’d like to see more bus/bike lanes on arterials and I would like to see them enforced. The bike plan implementation is coming along wonderfully but I’d like to see more dedicated bike lanes. I work in SW Baltimore and there are bike lanes everywhere but no cars, so there was no political “risk” installing them. The City will install bike lanes but not at the expense of roadway capacity [for cars] at this point. I think one of the biggest things the City is doing is keeping the Transportation Planning Division around because the staff are truly dedicated to sustainable transportation and they keep pushing their ideas.

Any new bus service improvements in the pipeline you want to promote?

OF COURSE! To all eight of your readers: we have two new Quick Bus (QB) routes rolling out beginning August 29th! Look for the QB 47 which overlaps the 15 and the QB 46 which overlaps the 5 on the east and 10 on the west. What is a QB you ask? A QB is basically limited stop service where we stop at the heaviest boarding locations only. It is different from an EXPRESS that shoots from point A to point B, A being the county and B being the central business district. It is different from a LOCAL which hits every stop along the line.

Q and A with Anthony Marinos of Zipcar

Baltimore Zip Car Locations (click to enlarge)

Here’s a quick interview with Anthony Marinos, a Marketing Manager at Zipcar.

How does Zipcar compare to renting through a traditional car rental service?

We really like to think of Zipcar as a replacement for a personally owned car, rather than a replacement for a rental car. The fact that our cars are in the neighborhood, available by the hour with gas, insurance and parking included makes Zipcar a convenient and cost effective alternative to owning a car, especially if you only need one a few hours a week.

How many subscribers do you have so far in Baltimore? What’s your target enrollment within the next year?

We’re not at liberty to disclose the total number of members in the Baltimore area, but we have strong programs already in place at Johns Hopkins, Towson and Goucher. We will work hard to increase awareness of Zipcar among as many people as we can in the city in the coming weeks and months to drive more memberships and use.

Say I want to take a road trip to North Carolina – is this possible using Zipcar?

Our focus is on people who need a car for a few hours at a time. If you wanted to take a week long trip out of state, you’d probably want to rent a car. But if you need a car for a few hours – whether it’s for a trip to Whole Foods or Ikea, Zipcar is perfect.  We do allow members to reserve a car for up to four days at a time, however.

 Are there any plans to expand service to neighborhoods like Canton, Patterson Park, or Federal Hill?

We hope to be able to serve a wide variety of communities and neighborhoods in the city. We’re starting with the locations we announced this week, and will expand to others based on demand and interest from members and non-members alike. Our partnership with the city will be very helpful to helping source parking spots in these additional neighborhoods

Q and A with Anna Ricklin

I asked Anna Ricklin, Baltimore Department of Transportation’s Health and Environmental Specialist, about her experience living without a car in Baltimore. Here’s what she had to say:

How long have you lived without a car in Baltimore?

I have been in Baltimore for nearly three years and, actually, I have never owned a car. The only time I have had (mostly) unrestricted access to a car was when I was living with my parents.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being without a car in this city?

Definitely the lack of well-connect public transit. Before I moved to Baltimore, I figured getting around via public transport would be easy—like it had been in Washington, DC and Portland, OR, where I lived before. Alas, despite being an avid cyclist and trying my best to use the bus, I really only take transit when it’s either pouring down rain or I need to get to the airport. Because of the unreliable—and sometimes scary—public transit, not having a car sometimes makes it so I have to rely on friends for rides, which doesn’t always feel good. And when it’s a beautiful summer day and all I want to do is go on a hike or swim in the countryside? That can be frustrating, too.

What do you think have been the greatest benefits of not owning a car?

Well, it’s funny. Sometimes I borrow cars, and when I do I tend to drive around a lot to get lots of errands done. Usually, by the end of a day like that I am more than reminded of the pitfalls of having a car and more than happy to return the thing. Not owning a car means I am rarely at the whim of traffic (thank you bicycle), don’t have to pay a few thousand dollars per year in car insurance, maintenance and gas, and of course I don’t have to build in an extra 10 minutes parking time as yet another factor adding to me being late.

What’s the single most important thing the city can do to support alternate transportation modes?

Wow, this is a tall order—so much needs to be done. But I think the single mort important thing the city can do is work with MTA to significantly improve transit service. I don’t just mean pressure MTA to have cleaner buses or change a couple of routes. I mean the city needs to create a downtown car-free zone accessible only for buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. They need to subsidize transit passes for all city employees, create incentive programs for businesses to do the same, and massively hike parking fees. It’s ridiculously cheap to park downtown ($2 per hour?!) and the city could be making a lot more money from what is essentially rented street space. Nearly ¼ of the city’s land is used for streets or surface parking (24%). We need to change that if we are ever going to have a more livable—and peaceful—urban environment not dominated by car traffic.

Anna Ricklin has her Masters in Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and currently works for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation as their first Health & Environment Specialist. She is passionate about active living and building alternative transport networks so that no one will have to rely on a car in order to live a full life. At work, she’s helping to make the Red Line green; outside of work, she is a Collective Member of the Velocipede Bike Project; likes to go on long walks, and has an impressive collection of hats.