MD: Bus Line Facing Ax Again; Officials: Annapolis to New Carrollton Route Too Costly

Two years after being rescued, the bus line between Annapolis and the New Carrollton Metro Station is again in jeopardy.

Officials at Dillon's Bus Service Inc. said they can no longer afford to offer the 921 bus line, a route the company picked up after the Maryland Transit Administration dropped it. The last service day will be June 30. Riders have been told about the cancellation through their bus drivers, notifications on the commuter bus and word of mouth.

Annapolis officials are working to see if they can provide an alternative, but it is unclear if that will happen by the last service day.

The Pasadena bus company had been losing $10,000 a month on the route. With fuel prices escalating, that is not something the company can afford, Ron Dillon Jr. said.

"In the good times, when charters were doing great, we could kind of sustain that. We just can't afford to run that any longer," said Dillon, the company's vice president.

"The riders have really been struggling with how to get to work. Many of those folks don't even have cars. ... Some of the (921 riders) do have a car, but find it an environmentally and economical way to get to work rather than using their own vehicle."

Area commuters depend on the bus to get to the New Carrollton Metro Station, which provides access to Metro rail and bus, MARC, Amtrak and Greyhound stops. The other bus routes from the city - the 922 and 950 - have stops in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., but not New Carrollton.

Annapolis resident Alan Vandendriessche is visually impaired and uses a guide dog. He has been riding the bus for 15 years and uses it to catch the Metro to his job in Arlington, Va. He could use the other buses to get to Annapolis, but he would have to walk a few extra blocks in the evening and try to get on buses downtown that are usually full.

"The MTA (cut the 921 route) to save money, but I have to ask why are you running 40 routes every day to D.C. when you only have to go as far as New Carrollton?" Vandendriessche said. The 922 and 950 bus riders, "go right past New Carrollton and can see it out of their bus windows."

Annapolis transportation director Richard Newell previously worked at the MTA and has talked to officials there to see what could be done about the 921 bus service, city spokesman Phill McGowan said.

"We understand this is a critical service," McGowan said. "We understand that providing this access is an important option for our residents who are working throughout the region."

In October 2008, the MTA announced it would cut the 921 bus to help save $25 million. At the time, officials said the 921 line had the lowest ridership in the system and that they would end the service by the beginning of 2009. The state was providing the service on Dillon's buses.

But in January 2009, Dillon's officials said they would continue offering the route. There were plans to boost ridership and get additional funding to get the route running permanently. Ridership did increase a bit - roughly 175 people use it daily - but the financial challenges became too much.

Once Dillon's took over the line, the 921 drivers could no longer accept MTA passes or 10-trip tickets that can be used on the 922 and 950. At times drivers had to turn away 20 to 30 people because they wanted to use MTA passes on the 921 bus, Dillon said.

Bowie resident Virginia Elliott uses the bus to travel to her job at the county's district court. She said she'd rather have an increase to her $3.50 fare than lose the bus.

"One of the ladies who rides the bus says there is another way, but it takes an extra hour to get here," Elliott said. "It's going to be awful."

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swoodards@capitalgazette.com

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