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Towson Asks: Is the Free Ride Worth It?

John Lee


Plans are in the works to bring a free circulator bus to Towson, like the one that currently runs in downtown Baltimore.  But not everyone is on board. Supporters of the circulator want people in Towson to keep their cars parked at their homes, then catch the free bus into town. Lori Seraphin, who lives in Towson, says if the Circulator comes, she’s all in. And it’s not just the slow traffic on York Road. “There’s parking issues down here, Seraphin says. “So if people don’t have to get into their car and worried about finding a spot, then that would be great.”

Seraphin works at Johns Hopkins Hospital and rides the free Charm City Circulator in downtown Baltimore. It hasn’t gone unnoticed in Towson that that Circulator is having its problems. It’s more than $11 million in debt.

County Councilman David Marks, who is leading the drive for the Towson bus, says the Charm City Circulator has been a victim of its own success. It’s very popular and has grown too quickly. “We’re going to be different,” Marks says. “Our circulator’s going to be very limited, very modest.”

For starters, it would just run up and down York Road. It would go about two miles, from the traffic circle to south of the Towson University campus . Details like possible stops or days of operation are still being worked out.  Marks says the cost is estimated at around $700,000 to one million dollars a year. Marks hopes at least some of that money would come courtesy of his fellow Republican, Governor-elect Larry Hogan.

Marks says the circulator would be “the type of nimble, cost effective service in a fast growing area that his administration should really look at.”

And there is a lot of growth planned for Towson over the next few years, including Towson Row. It’s a $300 million monster of a project that’s expected to include apartments, offices, a Whole Foods and other businesses, adding more cars to an already congested area.

Democratic Del. Steve Lafferty, who represents Towson, says York Road isn’t going to get any bigger. Recognizing, too, we’re going to have some additional development,” Lafferty says. “So we have to anticipate the added problems of getting in and out of town.”

But County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is unconvinced. For one thing, Kamenetz says there is plenty of parking. A new parking garage opened this year. And Kamenetz says Towson is in the suburbs. People who live, work and shop there like their cars. “Most of those people aren’t going to utilize a bus to get there,” Kamenetz says.  “And it’s not the type of pattern that is amenable to people using a circulator. So it’s kind of something that sounds good, but who is actually going to ride it?”

Indeed, some residents need convincing, like Brody Bond. He says he’s lived in Towson his whole life and has never ridden on a transit bus. “I think if we could figure out a way to use it and make it popular and normal experience for people, [that] could be great.”

There is a public meeting on the proposed Towson Circulator tonight at 6 at the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce offices at 102 W Pennsylvania Ave. (The meeting location has been corrected since this post was first published).