Getting around Baltimore without a car isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible
Published: August 2, 2010
Transportation probably wasn’t foremost in your mind when you were looking at colleges, but here you are in Baltimore. For all its charms, it lacks the well-connected subway system of New York City or Washington, D.C., and it isn’t the most car-friendly place either. Or the most easy to navigate (there are just a handful of blocks of numbered streets and North Avenue runs right through the middle of town). But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to sticking close to the dorm. Getting around without a car takes a little more forethought and a lot more planning, but it can be done. We’ve compiled a nice little cheat sheet to help you out. Hopefully it’ll tide you over until you can convince your parents to let you bring the car down.
The Maryland Transit Administration, aka the MTA
Your best bet for dependable transportation is the MTA bus system. The network covers most of Baltimore and manages to put a few buses out into the suburbs as well (helpful since many shopping options and most of the movie theaters are spread out around Baltimore County). Currently, there are 47 local bus routes that crisscross the city. Fare for Zone 1, which covers most of the city, comes to $1.60 each way, but daily, weekly, and monthly passes can be purchased. If you’re looking at using the buses often, it might be worth it to invest in a monthly college pass for $39, available at participating schools.
Popular routes include Bus 11, which runs between Towson (all the way up to Goucher College) to the north of the city all the way down to Canton Crossing on Baltimore’s southeastern edge; Bus 3, which runs between Towson and the tourist mecca that is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; Bus 61 which runs up and down North Charles and St. Paul streets between the Inner Harbor and North Baltimore; and Bus 8, which runs between northern suburb Lutherville all the way down York Road/Greenmount Avenue to the University of Maryland Transit Center. If all sounds like a bit much to figure out, the MTA web site (mta.maryland.gov) lists all the bus routes, schedules, and fares online. There’s also a helpful trip planner—just enter where you want to go and it’ll get you the bus stops, routes, and times.
Waiting for an MTA bus can seem like an ordeal, especially on the weekends when they run less frequently (or if it’s raining), but they cover the city better than any other public transportation and are much cheaper than taxis. Plus buses are not only a good way to get around Baltimore, they provide a good way to get to know Baltimore. You might, as I have, find yourself on a bus with a drunk carrying a bag of Herbal Essences hair conditioner, an evangelist, a stoner who decided to debate with the evangelist, and the victim of a mugging.
The MTA also operates a light rail line that runs all the way from the airport in the southern suburbs up through downtown (passing by Camden Yards, where the Orioles play badly) and out to suburban Hunt Valley, and a “subway” line (yes, one line) that stretches from the Hopkins Medical campus on the east side through downtown, out to Mondawmin Mall, and through the city’s west side to suburban Owings Mills. Both trains operate on the same basic fare structure as the buses, with a one-way ride going for $1.60. For maps and schedules, visit mta.maryland.gov.
The Collegetown Shuttle
One of the easiest ways to visit other colleges, be it for a class, a party, or meeting up with friends, is to use the Collegetown Shuttle bus service sponsored by the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Goldseker Foundation, and Baltimore County. It’s also free, as long as you have identification from a participating school. If you have friends from out of state, the bus drivers will let up to two guests ride too. Participating colleges include Goucher College, Towson University, College of Notre Dame, Loyola University Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, and MICA. In addition to the various schools, the shuttle makes stops at the Towson Town Center mall, Belvedere Square shopping center, Penn Station, and the Inner Harbor (only on the weekends for the latter). The schedule can be found at baltimorecollegetown.org/shuttle/.
The shuttle is excellent for lazy afternoons without time frames, spontaneous shopping trips, and Friday and Saturday night goofing off, and you can’t beat the price. The web site’s “Plan Your Visit” option also gives you a brief rundown on what’s available in each neighborhood and features a chart with travel miles and minutes on it.
That said, on weekends drunken students inundate the buses, looking for a party. Depending on who you are and what you’re in the mood for, this can be a good or bad thing. And one of the reasons it’s excellent for lazy afternoons is its lazy pace and sometimes haphazard reliability. A yellow bus pausing at your stop once every hour or so counts as a lucky day, and I once found myself stranded in Towson for several hours when the shuttle decided to skip a scheduled 7:20 p.m. stop. As they say, you get what you pay for.
The JHMI (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions) Shuttle
If you’re in the central part of Baltimore, this is a best-kept secret. Designed to ferry folks between Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus and the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus on the city’s east side, this shuttle starts at the Interfaith Center at St. Paul and 33rd streets and makes stops at Penn Station and the Peabody Institute as well before heading east. This service is free and we’ve never heard of anyone checking for student IDs. The schedule can be found at parking.jhu.edu/shuttles_jhmi_homewood.html.
Unless you’re trying to go to a formal in stiletto heels, pressed for time, or looking to blow a lot of money, taxis should be your last resort for starving students when getting around Baltimore. It takes little to no forethought to grab a taxi, but those innocuous cabs can drain your wallet. The fare from the Inner Harbor back to your dorm can sometimes come out to as much as $20 one-way. Pooling your money with some friends may make a cab make more sense.
Getting to the airport
Many area schools have some sort of service that will take you to Thurgood Marshall Airport—aka Baltimore Washington International, aka BWI—around the end of the semester. If not, splitting the $30 cab fare with a friend or two can cut the cost. MTA’s light rail service, which generally operates between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., can also get you there, though it will be necessary to get to a light rail stop or Penn Station first. The light rail costs the same as bus fare, $1.60.
Getting to Washington, D.C.
Without a car, the best way to get to Washington, D.C. is via the MARC Train, which departs from Penn Station. Tickets costs $7 one-way, but beware: the MARC only runs on weekdays. Amtrak train service also runs between Baltimore and Washington, but although prices vary, they tend to be more expensive.
Honestly, the easiest way to figure out how to use the city’s transportation system comes in the form of Google Maps. There’s this life-saving feature where you can look up directions by typing in your current address, typing the address where you want to go, click “Public Transportation” in the drop-down menu, and your instructions appear like magic. You can fiddle with arrival and departure times too. Simple and brainless, Google Maps makes it easier to catch buses without scanning the tiny print of the bus schedules.
Never fear, young freshmen. It only seems daunting; by next semester, you’ll be transferring buses, paying fares, and napping against the window with the best of them.