BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When a free bus service was launched downtown two years ago, it was hoped that a couple thousand people would hop aboard each day.

Mike Schuh reports it’s been so successful, the city exceeded their expectations three-fold.

When Albert Johnson’s bus pulls up, new riders are often in for a surprise.

“Well, oftentimes people come with their bus passes in their hands. They come with their permits. I tell them, ‘No, keep your money’ because some of them pull out their money. I tell them, ‘No, put your money in your pocket.  Just take a seat. I’m going to be your server,'” said Johnson, Charm City Circulator driver.

The Charm City Circulator has another name.

“Word of mouth is the best PR, and they named the Circulator the ‘Free Bus,'” Johnson said.

Originally, it was estimated that 2,300 people would ride the buses each day. Now three times as many ride the free bus.

“We carry 44 passengers, run five buses on this route and they stay filled,”  Johnson said.

Free is popular with students at the University of Baltimore, where management says the Circulator has helped boost enrollment.

“We also are at the center of the hub of Maryland transportation. We’re a block from Penn Station, which is a Circulator stop, but it connects with MARC trains, Amtrak trains, Bolt bus, so our kids can live downtown, take the Circulator to Penn, Amtrak to Manhattan for $49 bucks or Bolt bus for $20 and we market that,” said Jeff LaNoue, UB Sustainability Planner.

Overall, two million riders have traveled the two routes.

“This is one of the best things the city has done in a very long time,” said Kirby F.

The Circulator has been so successful, they held a celebration. It’s success the mayor is proud of.

“We are using transportation to grow Baltimore,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Other cities have seen these Circulators come and go once they ran out of the original pot of money. The beauty here is they’ve figured out how to keep it going.

People parking downtown are paying a 4 cent on the dollar parking tax, and that money is going to the Circulator.

“We think the future is bright. We’re using parking tax revenue. We’re being smart about funding. We’re also connecting it in ways that make sense. We are looking at our biggest asset to connect people to things that they want to see,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake.

In the fall, a new line — the Green Line — will open, connecting the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus to downtown.

Comments (5)
  1. andy says:

    It just warms my heart to know that 4 cents of every parking dollar of mine is providing a free ride for some thug spoonie to break into & rape , rob victims in the downton area. Now that’s what I call real thoughtful leadership. The gangs & thugs thank you MTA just like the same trash that rides the light rail free. Did it ever occur to the city council to limit this to students with a photo I.D., The disabled & seniors? .

    1. Dwayne Talkington says:

      Andy please go back to your corner and shut up…

  2. Zo says:


    If ignorance were to wreak an odor, you would be it.

  3. more freebus please says:

    Hooray for Dwayne and Zo for the dead-on responses to this toxic Andy character! I’ve ridden the “Free Bus” for a few business trips downtown (does that make me thug?), and I wish the regular MTA buses were half so nice. Made me feel like I saw in some charmingly modern and civilized city like Montreal or something.

    Circulator, please expand NORTH beyond Penn Station to Station North, Charles Village, and especially Hampden which is solely “served” by the godawful #27 bus when it feels like showing up.

    I do feel like the current Circulators are mainly for tourists since they don’t really help me, but I hope they’ll expand or at least be a good example to the MTA.

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