(Left to right) Baltimore County Deputy Director of Transportation Anthony Russell and Marchel Simmons, general manager for the Towson Loop, stand in front of a Towson Loop bus.

Ridership of the Towson Loop’s free-to-ride circulator buses is still well short of the quarter million annual passengers projected by a 2020 feasibility study. But growing usage of the bus system has heartened Baltimore County officials to explore expanding the service to other parts of the county.

Towson Loop buses have logged more than 80,000 riders since the program launched a year and a half ago, said Baltimore County officials.

The number of riders has risen by 550 percent over the past 18 months, with the buses currently transporting about 6,500 riders monthly. That’s up from 1,000 riders per month when the program launched in October 2021, said Marchel Simmons, general manager for the Towson Loop.

“After the first year, folks in Towson realized how to use the Loop … especially since last August with a new influx of Towson University students and Goucher College students,” Simmons said. “It just started clicking so that folks (understood) how to use the Loop.”

County officials are looking at Owings Mills and Catonsville to potentially get Loop buses of their own, Simmons said.

“It takes a lot of planning and we work with the MTA,” she said. “We’re looking at a feasibility study.”

Part of the expansion will involve determining stops where residents need and want to visit.

“Some of these other areas like Owings Mills and Catonsville, they’re (more spread out),” said Anthony Russell, Baltimore County’s deputy director of transportation. “What we can use is an anchor – hospitals, schools. We haven’t got that far yet. You want to catch the right ridership and go to the right places … so (that) we’re actually doing something the citizens of Baltimore County want.”

In Towson, those anchors include destinations like Towson University, the Towson Town Center mall, the Towson Place shopping center, K-12 schools, apartments, hospitals, libraries, and other commonly used places.

The Towson Loop takes riders to a total of 42 bus stops in the Towson area free of charge on two different bus routes: the east-to-west orange route with 25 stops, and the north-to-south purple route with 17 stops. The Loop uses existing MTA stops, but with added signage for the Loop.

Each of the 25-passenger, combustion-engine buses includes a wheelchair lift for passengers, as well as a bike rack for commuting cyclists. Groceries and baggage can be carried on board, along with pets as long as they can be kept under control on the rider’s lap or in a small carrier. Service animals are also allowed.

The manager said there has been a lot of positive feedback from riders on the friendliness of the drivers, the cleanliness of the buses, and ease in understanding the routes.

Towson Loop riders can monitor bus routes in real time through the PassioGo app, or by texting the Stop ID number (located in the middle of the bus stop sign) to 443-489-4524 for real-time, estimated arrival information.

The Loop is also going to use QR codes to help users track the buses, Simmons said.

“We’re going to put QR codes on the bus (stop) signs, and we are going to put the QR codes on the buses themselves,” she said.

The Loop’s fleet of 12 buses are operated by Coach USA and are funded this year with a $3.6 million grant.

Simmons said the Towson Circulator Loop is always looking for drivers, safety managers, and customer service agents. She encourages all residents to maintain and increase their use of the Loop.

“It reaches all,” she said. “This is our little baby, and we are going to watch it grow.”

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