Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Commuter's Nightmare

I remember a few years back, at the height of the national real estate boom that saw prices in the Washington metropolitan area reach the stratosphere, a concerted government-run campaign to attract those working in Washington to consider laying down roots in Baltimore. I don't remember the precise messaging, but it was built on the premise that your dollar would go farther in Charm City than in the Capital City. The signs presented Baltimore and its surrounding environs as some sort of idyllic commuter's paradise, where the quality of life was high, housing was affordable, and the commute to DC was akin to a Sunday drive through the country.
As a Baltimore native, who does in fact chose to live in Baltimore and work in Washington, there is not much I won't defend my city against. When compared to Washington and the Maryland/Virginia suburbs, our housing is affordable. In terms of community spirit and livability, my hometown doesn't want for much. But when it comes to that commute, and to the transportation options available to its citizens, Maryland has dropped the ball.
I ride the MARC train every day, and it is a nightmare. The Maryland Department of Transportation and the O'Malley administration have left MARC riders standing at the platform with no train in site.
As paying customers, MARC riders deserve accountability and a reasonable level of reliability; time after time they are left wanting in both departments. The constant mechanical failures and shortages of equipment make the MARC schedule a hodge podge of tardiness, canceled trains and lost productivity. As riders we are offered little more than half-hearted apologies fed to us over the crackling loudspeakers. Day after day trains are late, and MARC riders often spend hours hamstrung between stations on halted trains with no hope of reaching their destinations at the appointed hour.
This level of service simply isn't acceptable; particularly in light of the fact that MARC riders pay handsomely for the opportunity to waste valuable time that could otherwise be spent at the office or at home, sitting on stranded trains . In this economic downturn, when employees are under increased scrutiny, too many late arrivals might mean the difference between job security and a layoff, the MARC system must be made to be more reliable. MARC riders voluntarily relieve rush hour highway congestion, contribute Washington income to the Baltimore economy and reduce carbon emissions; yet we are treated like second class citizens. We demand better treatment, more of the same is simply not an option.

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