Guest Column: Annapolis should join the Regional Transportation Agency

Appearing in The Capital, March 21, 2014


Both Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are at a crossroads for improving transit in their respective areas with the proposed Regional Transportation Agency.

A regional transit system would put this area on comparable footing with scores of major urban areas in the U.S. We understand County Executive Laura Neuman is very close to signing the agreement, but that Mayor Mike Pantelides has some concerns. We believe these concerns can be overcome and urge both to sign the agreement and join the RTA.

While there are shared reasons for joining the RTA for both the city and county, there are distinct advantages for each. Building on the city’s existing transit system, Annapolis and its transit employees have the opportunity to create the core of a regional system that could provide access to employment centers, schools, libraries, hospitals and other facilities throughout the county and surrounding jurisdictions. For the county, the RTA will provide an entity that has the ability and expertise to tailor public transportation services to support underserved and unserved areas in low density and high density areas.

One of the key service areas is BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport with an Amtrak station and surrounding businesses. Wouldn’t a fare of, for example, $3, be a much better option for employees that work at the airport or Fort George G. Meade/NSA, and for some travelers, than the current $60 plus cab fare from Annapolis? Only a regionally based system will be able to provide this type of service.

Additionally, the 21-member Anne Arundel County Transportation Commission, in its soon to be released report, indicates the county must find alternatives to its auto centric two- and three-car homes and resulting increased congestion on our highways. Quality alternatives need to be offered to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles, especially during peak commuting periods. The RTA is part of that solution.

Yes, there are concerns about dealing with other jurisdictions in creating this agency. Howard County’s interest is obviously Howard County and service to its residents. However, Howard County’s rider destinations, just as for riders from Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, don’t end at jurisdictional boundaries. The RTA will require these entities to work together to provide improved and much more attractive transit services that cross these boundaries. We believe this can be accomplished.

The Anne Arundel County Transportation Commission recommends jurisdictions create in advance many of the key terms of the RTA in the Memorandum of Understanding in order to minimize contentious issues for the appointed RTA Commission. The Memorandum of Understanding should establish sufficient safeguards to protect everyone’s interests when creating and operating the RTA. These include equitable appointment of commissioners from each jurisdiction, voting powers, powers to amend the bylaws, and selection and oversight of the contract manager. These safeguards should be spelled out and automatically rolled into the RTA’s bylaws, which can and should be adjusted as the RTA gains experience.

We believe these concerns can be resolved, ultimately resulting in an upgraded, equitable regional transit system with reasonable fares to places people need to go. This is the future of transit in the central Maryland region. If city residents are to have a transit system that connects Annapolis with other employment centers throughout the region to provide mobility and access to jobs, then Annapolis must sign the agreement and begin to work with the transit employees, the union, the transit operator and the other jurisdictions to establish the RTA.

Bill Nevel and Alex Pline were co-chairs of the 2013-2014 Anne Arundel County Transportation Commission.

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