The public transportation doesn’t make sense, and neither do the streets, but it can be done
Published: August 29, 2011
Baltimore can be an intimidating city. With the shortage of numbered streets, or even a grid in many places, every turn seems to make you more lost. And although Baltimore seems to have a lot of public transportation options, the light-rail/subway lines (one each) only go north/south and east/west, and don’t always connect up to the city buses in ways that make sense. But plenty of Baltimoreans make it work or class every day, and you can too, and maybe even save a few bucks in the process.
Maryland Transit Administration (MTA): Before you venture any further, you need to know about one of the MTA’s greatest features: the Trip Planner. It’s simple, fast, and accurate. All you have to do is go to MTA’s main web site (mta.maryland.gov) and type in your starting point, your destination, the date, and the time you want to travel, and the site will spit out step-by-step instructions on how to get to your destination using the MTA. With that being said, here is a breakdown on what the MTA offers.
The bus is probably the best bet for most people/destinations. The MTA’s web site lists 46 different routes, such as route 61, which goes from Roland Avenue and Northern Parkway in the far north of town down to the Inner Harbor, or route 7, which takes you from Mondawmin Metro Station on the west side to Canton in the southeast.
A bus ride will cost you $1.60 each way. If you are a frequent rider, weekly and monthly passes can be purchased. A weekly pass comes in at $16.50, while a monthly college pass can be purchased for $39 (sold at participating schools only). While the bus is cheap, you might end up waiting a lot, sometimes hours, and all routes aren’t exactly created equal. Some run 24 hours while others only run 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., and even with 46 routes, you might end up walking that last quarter-mile. Still, the buses cover the city better than any of the other choices.
The subway (with all of its, like, five stops) runs from Monday to Friday from 5 a.m. until midnight and on Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. until midnight. It runs 15.5 miles from Johns Hopkins Hospital on the east side all the way through downtown and the city’s west side to suburban Owings Mills. The good news is it’s as cheap as the bus, only a $1.60 for a one-way ticket.
The light rail runs from Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) in the suburbs south of the city, up past the stadiums, through downtown, and on north up to Hunt Valley in the suburbs. Why is that important? Well if you ever need to catch a plane, you can count on the light rail to get you there. The other benefit is that Hunt Valley is a one-stop shopping trip where you can get everything from your groceries to video games without getting in a car. Of course, you have to get to a light-rail stop. A one-way ride for the light rail costs the same as the metro and the bus.
MARC: If you’re looking to leave town, the MTA-run MARC train is the way to go. The system offers three lines: Penn, Brunswick, and Camden. Fares vary.
Penn operates primarily between Baltimore’s Penn Station through BWI and Union Station in Washington, D.C. If you are looking for Baltimore City, Odenton, Bowie State University, Martins Airport, Edgewood, Aberdeen, or Perryville, then the Penn Line is for you.
Brunswick goes between Brunswick and Washington Union Station while extending to Frederick in the western part of the state and Martinsburg, W.V. The Brunswick Line reaches areas that surround D.C., such as Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Silver Spring.
The Camden line runs to Union Station in D.C. with stops at Dorsey, Laurel, and College Park.
If you’re in any kind of hurry, be sure to check the MTA web site to see if there are any disruptions or delays in service.
Taxis: Cabs are not the most cost-efficient way to get around Baltimore, especially if you’re riding alone. A typical fare might be $1.80 for the first 1/11 of a mile with a 20 cent cost for every additional 1/11 mile. That means that even what seems like a short ride around town can add up pretty quickly. Airport trips can often be had for a flat rate. Of course, if it’s pouring out, or you’ve got groceries to haul, a cab ride starts to look mighty appealing, but, again, the best way to keep the cost down is to share. Baltimore isn’t a place where fleets of cabs cruise the streets looking for fares, at least not in most neighborhoods, but most cab companies are good about dispatching cabs fairly quickly if you call, and if you’re in the Mount Vernon/Station North area, there are always cabs waiting at Penn Station.
Collegetown Shuttle: This might just be one of the only places you’ll enjoy showing ID. The Collegetown Shuttle offers free transportation with proof of being a student at a participating school (including Goucher College, Towson University, College of Notre Dame, Loyola University, John Hopkins University, MICA, and University of Baltimore); your student ID is your ticket. The shuttle service’s two lines run all the way from Goucher and Towson in Baltimore County down into the city, stopping at/by the other schools along the city’s north/south axis, and on the Believe Hon Line, as far as Penn Station (see baltimorecollegetown.org for routes and stops). And if you have friends from out of state the bus driver will let you have up to two guests ride.
Other than the price, the best thing about the shuttle are its hours. From Monday through Thursday, the route has spots where you can board as early as 7:15 a.m. and as late as 10:15 p.m. The earliest pick-up on Saturday and Sunday is 10:50 a.m., but every single shuttle stop picks up students until at least midnight, some going as late as one in the morning. Be prepared for drunk students on the weekends.
Charm City Circulator: Another free ride around town can be had via the Charm City Circulator (CCC). Created to reduce congestion and greenhouse-gas pollution (the buses are hybrid diesel/electric-powered), the CCC offers 21 free shuttles and three different routes for its passengers. Running from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays (and 9 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays), the Green Route travels from City Hall to Fells Point and John Hopkins’ East Baltimore medical campus, the Purple Route runs from Penn Station to Federal Hill, and the Orange Route runs from Hollins Market on the west side to Harbor East. For full route and schedule info, visit charmcitycirculator.com.
Johns Hopkins Shuttle: Created to ferry students between John Hopkins University’s Homewood Campus and the John Hopkins Medical campus, this shuttle begins at the Interfaith Center at St. Paul and 33rd streets and makes stops along St. Paul, at Penn Station and at the Peabody Institute. Best of all, this service is completely free. If you need the schedule, just head on over to parking.jhu.edu/shuttles_jhmi_homewood.html.
Car: The biggest issue about having a car at school isn’t necessarily getting around (once you figure out about a dozen key streets, you can usually manage it), but finding a place to park. Free street parking does exist, but depending on the area of the city you’re in and when you’re there, it can be a nightmare to find an empty spot. Metered parking isn’t too bad, where it exists; rates vary, and machines you can feed with your credit card are spreading. If you’re heading anywhere near the water, you may end up in a pay lot or parking garage; a typical evening trip to the Inner Harbor can easily put you out $20.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but don’t worry, before you know it you will know all the tricks to getting around with a few extra bucks in your pocket.
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