ENSURING RELIABLE TRANSPORTATION

Maryland 2030 will bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to our state. By bringing jobs back to Maryland – instead of Virginia or Washington, D.C. – we can reduce commute times for countless Marylanders, address traffic issues across the state, and transform the environmental impact of more and more cars on the road for longer and longer. When my mother was involved in Montgomery County politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the major topic was traffic and expanding roads; when I was volunteering in Montgomery County in the late 1990s, the major topic was traffic and expanding roads; today, the major topic is traffic and expanding roads. We have been having the same conversation across our state for half a century. If we move the jobs closer, we will address congestion, environmental issues, our tax base, and quality of life. At the same time, we have to ensure that everyone in Maryland is able to commute to their career, wherever it may be.

It may be obvious, but you cannot work if you cannot get to your job. In fact, this problem is all too common. A 2019 poll of Baltimore-area residents found that one in four “reported issues with getting to work or home using public transportation”; many of those surveyed reported not having an active driver’s license, and even for those who had one and had access to a personal vehicle, commute times often exceeded an hour each way, making responsibilities such as child care harder still. The same survey from five years earlier similarly showed transportation issues to be a major barrie to steady employment, demonstrating the entrenched nature of the problem. (Surveys of both low-income and under-employed or unemployed workers in other states have shown that the problem is not limited to Maryland.)

The pandemic has made this even worse, as mass transit schedules were decimated because of reduced ridership. In the short term, we must ensure that all participants in Maryland 2030 can get to work. As governor, I will work to reduce commute times by moving jobs closer to home and ensure all Marylanders have access to affordable transportation. We will do the following:

Take full advantage of the once-in-a-generation public transportation investments included in the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill.

As with the multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation bill that includes key child care and early education funding, the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s future remains uncertain, despite passage in the Senate earlier this year. The $550 billion in new federal spending would include “$65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971.” Investments in mass transit would be significant – $39 billion to “modernize public transit,” $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, and $12 billion for intercity rail service; all-told, it would be “the largest federal investment in public transit in history.”

These once-in-a-lifetime investments would allow Maryland to jumpstart many of the ambitious transportation projects and initiatives outlined below, making getting to work easier, safer, and more affordable for hundreds of thousands of working Marylanders all across the state.

Provide free public transportation for all program participants for the duration of their enrollment in Maryland 2030 – and a whole year after leaving.

Having the funds to pay for a bus ticket to and from a job – or continuing education program, apprenticeship, or any form of skills training – should never be a barrier to moving forward in one’s career, but all too often it is. While major investments in system-wide public transit are desperately needed, they also are expensive, and take time to come to fruition. Even a perfectly functioning train system, for example, can still prove cost-prohibitive for individuals pursuing job training in the short term.

Cumulative participants in Maryland 2030 will total fewer than 300,000 through the program’s first four years. While some will no doubt have access to private modes of transportation – or live within walking or biking distance of the locations where they will undergo job and skills training – many others will depend on various modes of public transit to reach their training sites. To ensure their success – both during training and once they are on the job and pursuing new careers – all participants in Maryland 2030 will receive free access to public transit from the moment they are enrolled until a year after leaving the program.

Work with participating employers to cover transit gaps, particularly last mile transportation.

Even if an individual has reliable access to public transit and the resources to afford it, there still is no guarantee they will be able to easily get to their places of education, training, or work, particularly when it comes to the first and last mile of the journey. Investing in comprehensive public transit systems, from rail to circulators and more, will go a long way toward reducing the need for employers and private entities to step in with solutions, but some gaps may still remain.

To ensure all Maryland 2030 participants are able to get to their apprenticeships, their places for skills development, and, eventually, their jobs, we will work with private employers to provide last mile transportation on a reliable schedule for all program participants; and ensure that those who pursue public sector jobs likewise are not stymied by last mile transit gaps. By thinking creatively, we can find solutions to commuters’ challenges, whether that be on-demand shuttles or state incentives for things such as corporate bike share programs.

Ensure a fully funded WMATA.

Since it opened in 1976 until 2018, Metro was the only major subway system without a dedicated, permanent funding source. The new investment was set to help Metro “to buy new rail cars and buses, upgrade track and power systems, modernize stations and make other improvements.” (It also came not long before Metro’s 10-year federal funding program – which provided $150 million annually to the system – was set to expire.)30 But just as Metro appeared headed for greater stability, COVID-19 hit, and the system began running a half a billion-dollar funding deficit.

Despite some $800 million in CARES Act funding for WMATA operating costs, the system continues to face the challenges of budget shortfalls and potential layoffs amidst significantly reduced ridership. Indeed, a budget hearing earlier this year – which noted that rail ridership was still down 90%, while bus ridership was down 60%–showed the system still faced a $210 million funding gap with the continued threat of station and route closures and reduced hours and service.

It should go without saying that while paying for a robust public transit system is expensive – especially during a pandemic that has decimated ridership revenue nationwide – failing to do so will be far more costly. Our next governor should promise to provide full and adequate funding for the WMATA throughout their time in office – not make threats to withhold money from the system.

The provisions relating to Metro in the bipartisan infrastructure bill would reauthorize the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 “provide $150 million in capital and preventive maintenance grants for fiscal years 2022 through 2030.” The bill also would “boost accountability and public confidence” by increasing funding for the agency’s internal watchdog.

These are much needed measures that need to be pursued, with or without passage of this particular legislation.

Invest in a comprehensive rail system in Baltimore, instead of cancelling necessary expansions.

Maryland taxpayers spent $300 million in planning, design, and land acquisition for the Red Line36 and we are all currently paying higher gas taxes meant to fund the Red Line, but Gov. Larry Hogan killed the transit expansion,37 giving back $900 million in already-secured public funding. The line was projected to create 13,000 jobs and help generate more than $6.5 billion in regional economic activity.

While not every detail of the Red Line was perfect, we should be focused on creating a unified rail system in Baltimore and using newly available transit funding to help pay for it. The public transportation funding included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill now before Congress may make this project feasible once again, and a provision include in the pending legislation “could help revive” the project. The “project reentry” provision, which calls for the U.S. secretary of transportation to consider “projects that seek an updated rating after a period of inactivity,” has the strong backing of the state’s federal delegation, but progress would wholly depend on a willing and supportive administration in Maryland.

Connect all of Maryland.

We need to make serious investments in transportation that gets people to work, no matter where they are in Maryland. This does not just mean investing in rail transit, but all forms of public transit. From the MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) Train Service to commuter busing, we should prioritize transit funding based on what gets the most people to work.

Baltimore County, for instance, has pushed for more state funding to establish free bus routes throughout the county, but a lack of state support has thus far stymied those efforts. The Regional Transit Plan for Central Maryland was finalized in 2020 amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but its vision for the region over the next two-and-a-half decades will not come to fruition without adequate resources at the state (and federal) level.