Report Highlights the Need for Local Governance in Baltimore Transit

The unique structure of the Maryland Transit Administration leaves local stakeholders out of decision-making.

January 7, 2021, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Baltimore Rail

In 2015, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan cancelled a planned light rail project that would have connected East and West Baltimore without local review. | Pi.1415926535 / Wikimedia Commons

A new report from the Eno Center for Transportation highlights the unique nature of the governance of Baltimore's transit system, the only one of the country's 50 largest state-run transit agencies to operate without a board of directors or local funding. Depending exclusively on federal and state funds, writes Alex Holt in Greater Greater Washington, makes Baltimore "uniquely vulnerable to the whims of each passing Maryland governor."

The report strongly recommends reform, emphasizing the importance of transit governance in determining a system's responsiveness to community needs. Governed by a single administrator, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) finds itself at a disadvantage when competing with other state agencies and regions (including the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area) for funding and support. The structure also gives the governor the power to make important decisions about local transit without additional oversight. With transit projects often needing up to a decade to get off the ground, leaving decisions up to governors means many projects get scrapped or forgotten as administrations change.

To remedy the situation, the report presents three possible solutions modeled on Boston, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis. The suggestions include establishing transit oversight boards, installing a state-level board of directors, and forming a new, more comprehensive transit authority that includes funding and representation from multiple jurisdictions. While some solutions are faster and cheaper than others, the Eno Center report makes clear that the MTA needs drastic reform and more local control in order to effectively serve Baltimore's citizens.

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