Eno Releases New Report on Transit Reforms in the Baltimore Region

Greater Baltimore is the 21st largest metropolitan area in the country by population and is responsible for nearly half of Maryland’s economy. Yet the way transit is governed in Greater Baltimore limits the region’s ability to provide access to opportunity for the region’s diverse population or to grow its economy.

Of the 50 largest transit agencies in the country, Baltimore’s is the only one that is governed and operated by a state agency without a board of directors. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is part of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and reports to the governor, with no direct local oversight. Its primary source of funding is the state Transportation Trust Fund, which also supports investments for the other modal administrations that fall under MDOT’s purview. Also, uniquely, the local governments in the Baltimore region do not contribute direct funding (i.e. local taxes) to the transit services the state provides.

In a new report, Transit Reform for Maryland: New Models for Accountability, Stability, and Equity, Eno provides several options for improving governance and funding of transit in Central Maryland. This report is Eno’s most recent installment of improving transportation through better governance.

The report examines the framework for transit governance and funding in Maryland today and how it has evolved in recent years. It reflects lessons learned from reviews of transit governance and funding in similarly-sized regions across the country, and the role of the state and local governments in each. It then lays out several options based on these reviews that are appropriate for Central Maryland.

Research for this scan was informed by a scan of available information on transit in the Baltimore region and interviews with a wide range of regional stakeholders, an assessment of transit governance in three peer cities, and a review of existing research on transit governance.

We find that Greater Baltimore suffers from a lack of a coherent regional vision that hinders its ability to address pervasive issues of race, poverty, and economic inequality and undermines efforts to make transit more effective. We also find that the state role in transit is beneficial in many ways, particularly the large presence it has with state leaders in the legislature and the administration, as well as the relatively predictable flow of funding it provides Greater Baltimore’s MTA operations. But disconnect between regional transit needs and total state authority makes it difficult to conduct and implement long term plans that are responsive to the changing local and regional needs, due to political election cycles and other statewide factors.

The report recommends three options for reform:

  1. The creation of a Greater Baltimore Transit Authority as a new special purpose regional transit agency
  2. Authorization of transit oversight boards made up of local representatives with limited decision-making powers
  3. The creation of a new state-level board of directors with the authority to govern the MTA and with budgetary and oversight authority over the agency.

Irrespective of the model chosen, the state must continue to have a key role in public transit funding and oversight. However, the local governments in the region will eventually need to increase and coordinate their direct involvement in the MTA through some level of financial commitment. There are no examples of other large regions in the U.S. where the localities do not directly financially support transit.

Transit governance and funding reforms can be difficult. While there is no single best model of transit governance, the current model in the Baltimore region does not achieve the best outcomes for transit riders, workers, and employers. Reforms will likely have to start at the local level with the jurisdictions that receive the majority of MTA’s existing core transit service. A collaborative effort at the local level to identify the preferred path forward can serve as motivation for state legislation to enable reform.

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