November 11, 2020|Paul Lewis and Brianne Eby
The Central Maryland area of Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, and Queen Anne’s County is an important, vibrant region. It is the 21st largest metropolitan area in the country by population, home to nearly 2.8 million people and responsible for nearly half of Maryland’s economy. Like any major metropolitan area in the United States, it needs a robust and multimodal transportation system to keep its economy moving, connect people to jobs and opportunity, and shape how it grows and develops over time.
However, the governance of public transit in Greater Baltimore limits its ability to address those regional transportation needs. 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 Department of Transportation is responsible for most transportation functions in the state—highways, seaports, airports, motor vehicles, toll roads, and mass transit—housed under one combined governor-controlled agency. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is part of this executive branch agency and reports to the governor, with no direct local oversight. Its primary source of funding is the state Transportation Trust Fund and, also uniquely, the local governments in the Baltimore region do not directly contribute funding to the transit services the state provides.
Unfortunately, under this governance structure, metropolitan Baltimore’s public transportation system has not kept pace with repair and service needs nor has seen a new rapid transit line in more than two decades. The MTA recently released a Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan that defines the future goals for the agency and for transit in the region. However, the plan does not boldly state priorities for investment to achieve its goals and as a result, does not create as cohesive a regional vision for transit as it could.
Governance and funding reforms are heavy lifts. Institutions, processes, and relationships that have built up over decades make any change difﬁcult, and there is no single best model of transit governance. But this time of unprecedented social, economic, and environmental disruption has direct and immediate impacts on transit. It also demands a close examination of how government works, whether it is responsive to the needs of transit users and workers, and how well it is preparing the region for the future. The time is right to commit to a different model for Greater Baltimore.