BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Weeks after proposing cuts to bus routes amid a budget shortfall due to the coronavirus, the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration has walked back those plans following backlash from residents and local leaders.

Citing significant ridership declines amid the pandemic, on September 1, MDOT MTA proposed local bus route realignments that would have led to a total service reduction of roughly 20 percent. The agency cut $43 million from its fiscal year 2021 operating budget, roughly five percent of the total budget.

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Other proposed cuts included eliminating Express Bus routes and some commuter bus routes.

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On Wednesday, “following public comment and feedback from local jurisdictions,” the agency said the proposed changes won’t be implemented and public hearings on the issue have been canceled.

Instead, it will put into place “temporary, strategic service reductions to MARC and Commuter Bus while continuing to operate core Local Bus on current schedules.” Those changes will take effect on November 2.

Overall transit ridership has fallen 60% from 2019, the agency said.

In a joint statement following Wednesday’s announcement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Council President Brandon Scott praised the decision to not move forward with the cuts, which would have taken effect on January 3, 2021:

“We’re pleased that the state has reversed their decision to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable residents. While we understand the significant budget challenges caused by the pandemic, the proposed cuts would have only caused further harm to our residents who are already bearing the brunt of this crisis. Moving forward, we must continue to fight for more state funding to reverse generations of underinvestment in transportation across our entire region.”

The news was also welcome to MTA bus riders.

“Me and my wife, neither one of us drive, so we use It every day about for something, need to go into work or go shopping, so it’s very important for us,” MTA bus rider Bill Meloche said.

“It’s definitely essential for people that don’t have transportation, don’t have their own car,” MTA bus rider William Dorsey told WJZ.

City and county leaders say moving forward, it will be important to advocate for more state funding to “reverse generations of underinvestment” in Baltimore’s transportation.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Rachel Menitoff

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