State, Federal Meddling May Force County to Lower Quality of Public Transportation Service

By Guy Leonard, guyleonard [at]

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Dec. 4, 2014)—Pedestrians who want to catch a ride on a St. Mary's County Transit System (STS) bus have long been able to flag one down, but that may change in the future, say county transportation officials.

They say pedestrians will be able to continue to flag down a STS bus for the foreseeable future, but safety concerns and pressure from the state and federal government over new transportation performance standards are forcing officials to evaluate just how much longer the practice will be allowed and to what degree.

The pressure from the state and federal government comes now because of the new metropolitan planning organization (MPO) that arbitrarily designated much of the California area and Chesapeake Ranch estates in Calvert County as an urban transportation planning area based on population numbers from the census.

This means that buses that have traditionally been run to support a more rural schedule may have to meet more stringent urban standards for efficiency of their routes to maintain funding for the system.

“We’re going to try to get people to cluster, but we’re not going to immediately halt flag stops,” said George Erichsen, director of the Department of Public Works and Transportation. “We’re still a rural jurisdiction despite the urbanized designation, with the increased standards of performance it will simply be more challenging to track our performance.”

The scheduled stops for STS buses will not change, Erichsen said.

Even without the requirements from the new MPO, the county was still looking at whether it should curb the flag stop policy for STS buses due to traffic safety concerns.

The flag stops could pose safety problems at portions of the road, where little to no shoulders existed, but drivers had to be careful to choose the safest spot to make their pickups.

“They can be dangerous, but they don’t have to be,” Erichsen said.

What remains to be seen is how the routes will actually work out with the funding provided by federal grants since some routes start in rural areas and then move into the MPO designated areas and back out again.

The grant funding is split, Erichsen said, between $725,697 for rural routes and about $1.04 million for urban ones.

“The decision for funding was made base on estimated distribution of passenger trips inside the MPO and outside the MPO,” Erichsen said. “We have to see how it all pans out.”

County Commissioner Todd Morgan said he and other commissioners with the last board vehemently protested the MPO as a federal government overreach and that new rules could forces riders to adapt.

“People are going to have to adapt to the fact,” Morgan said. “It bothers me because we are a rural county.”

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