The MTA is planning service cutbacks which, if implemented, would virtually end all commuter bus service from Howard County to Baltimore. One route would still remain, the Ellicott City to Baltimore line, however that line terminates downtown, which would require riders to transfer to metro, light rail or bus transit to get to their destination, assuming they worked outside of walking distance.
The current 310 and 311 lines serve, in addition to the downtown hub, major employment centers in Baltimore such as Johns Hopkins University, The University of Maryland Baltimore, and the Maryland state office complex on Preston Street in Baltimore. These lines have apparently experienced an over 50% increase in ridership during 2008.
The rationale for these cutbacks, one might guess, is the state budget. These and other cuts in transportation are due to budget restrictions. These are restrictions that slot revenue cannot save.
In interest of disclosure-- at my last job I used to ride the 310 commuter bus to get to and from work. It was convenient, saved wear and tear on my car, cheap (my employer subsidized the cost so instead of $140/month, I paid about $20/month), reduced my carbon footprint, the buses were clean and the people were friendly. It would be a sad thing to see the buses go.
But my prediction, although I intend to fight it, is that the buses will go. Here's why.
In this economic environment there simply isn't the funding to retain this service. Ther one-way fare of the 310/311 routes is $3.50; so that's $7.00 per day. However this does not include an additional $10/rider/day subsidy which the state contributes. Assuming 300 riders per day, this equates to a $3000/day cost, and during the course of a year, this is about a $1.1M subsidy. In the context of a $700M-$800M budget shortfall, this isn't a total cure, but it's not a totally insignificant figure either.
I am surely no fan of these cutbacks, but I sense inevitability on this one, especially as these commuter bus services between Howard County and Columbia have been systematically reduced over the past few years. First stops in the neighborhoods were eliminated, then fares increased, then schedules revised, and now this. It doesn't make sense to cancel a service which is actually growing, and there are some good ideas in the cutback proposals, such as not having service on certain holidays or days after holidays. Squashing the service itself doesn't make social sense, but it does make economic sense.
Oh, and by the way, private companies won't touch this with a 30-foot pole. Because they'd have to charge $20/day to riders to use the service to even approach making it profitable. And no one's going to pay $400/month to ride the bus.