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The Dripby Danielle Sweeney3:00 pmJan 16, 20150

Circulator may need $6 million to keep rolling

The popular but money-losing bus service may need the infusion to stay in service next fiscal year. Expansion to Charles Village is still planned.

Above: An Orange Route Circulator at Lombard Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The Charm City Circulator will need $6 million from the city’s general fund next year if the bus system does not find additional funding, budget director Andrew Kleine told a City Council hearing yesterday.

The free service has accumulated a $11.6 million operating deficit since it began in 2010. “We need to stop the bleeding,” Kleine said.

Charging a $1 fare for the now-free service was floated last year by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

That solution was downplayed at yesterday’s hearing. Instead, Young suggested that the service’s primary funding source – a portion of municipal parking taxes – be increased.

Currently, one-fifth of the 20% parking tax at city-owned garages is dedicated to funding the shuttle service, which carries about 4 million people a year on four routes, the Orange, Purple, Green and Banner.

Councilman Edward Reisinger, whose 10th district is served by the Orange Route, objected to the idea. He said he did not want to increase the Circulator’s share of the parking tax. Nor did he want the Circulator to raid the city’s general fund.

Expansion to Charles Village

Despite the Circulator’s gloomy long-term financial prospects, the Department of Transportation is still planning to expand the Purple Route north to 33rd Street in Charles Village.

“That’s a commitment we’re planning on following through with,” said William M. Johnson, director of DOT, once major repairs on North Charles Street are completed, probably this summer.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the area, said she was pleased to hear this, but Reisinger expressed opposition to any expansion that the city couldn’t pay for.

“Why do we keep expanding the routes?” he asked.

Review of Operations

A $130,141 review of the Circulator by consultant Louis Berger Water Services should be finished by the end of the month.

Johnson said changes in routing and scheduling, the lower cost of fuel and a new contract structure (the service is now run by Veoila/Transdev, but the contract will expire shortly) could save money.

And while DOT is opposed to charging a fare because of the collection costs and because a fare would decrease ridership, “everything is on the table” because of the deficit, Johnson said.

Once the department’s review of available options is complete, Johnson said the Rawlings-Blake administration would get back to the Council.

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