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Anne Arundel Makes Free Transportation More Accessible

Last fall, the county’s ridership averaged around 18,000 a month; now, it’s nearly at 30,000 monthly riders. The Call N’ Ride program use, which offers free transit, has increased 222 percent over the last year.

Over the past few years, Anne Arundel County, Md., has incrementally upgraded its bus system, including launching an app that allows residents to track buses and expanding a feature that enables them to call a bus.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman told state transportation officials at a meeting last week he was actively trying to improve transit service in the county.

"There is the, 'build it and they will come' philosophy as opposed to, 'well people aren't riding it so let's not bother to build it,'" he said. "It's expensive and it takes a commitment, and it takes an acknowledgment that it is good for people who don't have cars. It's good for the environment. It's good for us in a lot of ways."

The county didn't run its own comprehensive bus system until 2018, the year Pittman was elected. When he came to office, the fledgling enterprise wasn't very accessible to residents, said Samuel Snead the county's transportation officer, who oversees the now roughly $6 million department.

"Even though we existed, we weren't as visible," Snead said.

However, as the county continues to build it, the riders seem to be coming. Last fall ridership averaged around 18,000 a month. Snead said it's now at nearly 30,000 riders a month.

The system consists of nine fixed routes that traverse the county including one through Brooklyn Park, one through west county and the Crofton Connector. All routes run on weekdays and some run on weekends as well.

Back in 2018 the county launched a Call N' Ride feature, allowing residents to hail a bus to their location, Snead said. Former County Executive Steve Schuh's administration piloted the program in south county, a largely rural region with limited transportation options.

Courtney Buiniskis, a county community engagement officer covering south county, attributes much of the poverty-related issues faced by residents there, including access to grocery stores, to a lack of transit options.

"Transportation is so connected to food insecurity," Buiniskis said in September, discussing county initiatives to combat hunger in the area, adding she's been spreading the word about Call N' Ride as she works with residents.

Soon after Pittman took office, his team expanded Call N' Ride to serve a wider swath of south county, made it free and launched a version in north county last fall, Snead said.

"The numbers are exploding as people are getting word that you can call and get a bus pretty much anywhere in the region that you want," Pittman said, adding that use of Call N' Ride has increased 222 percent over the past year.

The south county program is available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, aside from holidays, while the north county version is accessible between the same hours Monday through Saturday. The south and north county programs each cost around $240,000 annually to operate, Snead said.

Residents can call 410-222-0025 at least two hours in advance to schedule a trip. Trips can also now be booked through the new Pingo app the county launched in the spring for the south county program. The county intends to program the app for the north county version next spring, Snead said.

His department is working to expand the Call N' Ride program across the county over the coming years.

After installing around 300 bus stop signs over the past year and a half — the bus system had none — Snead moved on to improve some of the most used stops with additional amenities.

"We started out by painting the buses," Pittman said, adding his team made sure to scrawl "free, free, free" all over them "so everybody would know."

This fall the county installed four bus shelters at a few frequently used stops. It placed one at Severn Library, another at Harmans Dorsey Fire Station, a third at Peninsula Farms Road along College Parkway and a fourth along Ritchie Highway at Arnold Road near Safeway. In addition to having USB charging outlets, each shelter's lighting is solar powered.

Each shelter costs around $13,000. Two were funded through a $26,000 AARP grant while the others were funded through county dollars.

The latest update is free onboard Wi-Fi and the launch of the Passio GO app which went into effect last month.

While the Pingo app allows residents to order a Call N' Ride bus in south county and soon north county as well, the Passio GO enables them to find their bus, view schedules and see estimated times of arrival.

The county plans to order up to six electric vehicles in the spring to start transitioning its entire transit fleet. Federal and local funding of around $2.8 million, including $583,000 of federal American Rescue Plan funding, will be used as seed money for the transition.

A several-acre parcel in the Glen Burnie area the county purchased recently will, over the next 18 months, be cleared in preparation to transform into a transit hub, equipped with a charging station. A hub by Arundel Mills will also soon be renovated to suit electric vehicles, Snead said.

Starting in January residents or visitors to the county will pay a 25-cent tax every time they call a ride-share including Uber and Lyft to a location in Anne Arundel. The $350,000 to $500,000 annually that is expected to generate will go to the county's transit system.

Looking forward, the department is planning one of its biggest projects to date: a transportation center in Parole at the Westfield Annapolis Mall that will service bus systems across the entire central Maryland region. It's expected to cost around $20 million, Snead said, and is ranked as the state's second most important transportation priority this year. Design is expected to be complete next fall and workers will likely break ground that winter.

"This county can grow and grow in a way that is greener, smarter [and] more equitable," Pittman said.

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(c)2023 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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