An MTA CityLink bus. Photo by Scott218, via Wikimedia Commons.

Baltimore City Public Schools students accounted for nearly one-fifth of the annual ridership of Maryland Transit Administration buses, light rail and subways before the pandemic, but public transit presents an assortment of challenges to those student riders, according to a new report from the nonprofit Fund For Educational Excellence.

In 2020, the nonprofit interviewed 274 Baltimore City students from 32 high schools and 130 neighborhoods about their experiences traveling to and from school for a report titled “NOT IN SERVICE: Why Public Transit Must Aim to Serve Students.”

Some students walked, drove, received a ride to or from school from a family member, friend or rideshare service. But most relied on public transit, primarily MTA buses, the report found.

About 29,000 city middle and high school students, or 73% of the school system’s middle and high school student population, use MTA public transit services to get to and from school, extracurricular activities, internships, and jobs.

But the high school students who were interviewed for the report said they faced inadequate transit connection to their homes and schools, long commutes, unreliable service, and fears of violence and harassment.

The report details how the legacy of redlining in Baltimore has perpetuated inequities in the quality and access of public transit for Black and Brown communities compared to their white counterparts.

The Hogan administration’s cancellation of the Red Line project, which was expected to increase jobs and development and improve environmental sustainability, has also led to further disinvestment in Black and Brown communities in Baltimore, the report said.

Of the students interviewed for the report, 68% said they feel safe on their way to and from school. Still, many feel wary of potential dangers along their route.

One student, who lives in West Baltimore, takes MTA buses to and from Baltimore City College.

She said she leaves her house at 6:30 a.m. most days to get to school by the 7:55 a.m. opening bell. But if she leaves the house a little later or if her buses do not arrive on time, she is often late to school.

She estimated that she is late to school 15 out of 20 days.

“[My first quarter] I missed [first period] every day … I was actually missing a lot to the point that my grades started dropping very low in my first period,” the Baltimore City College student said.

The student does not participate in after-school drama and debate clubs as she would like because she does not feel safe riding the bus at night.

A student at Patterson High School said she wakes up at 6 a.m. and leaves her house by 7:14 a.m. to catch her bus.

She estimated that she is late to school three days per week. On days when the weather is too poor to wait outside, she skips school altogether.

“[O]ut in this weather for an hour and 30 minutes to get to school, it’s just too much,” she said.

Several students reported feeling unsafe around older men on the bus who would stare at them, touch them, or talk to them in a vulgar or unwanted manner.

“You can’t look pretty on the bus…you can’t have your hair done. You can’t even put your makeup on….They try to talk to you or sit next to you and get in your face, and I just don’t like that,” a Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School student said.

A Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy student said she has been the victim of a robbery.

“If I know I’m going to be out for a long period of time, if I’m waiting on the bus or anything, I really try not to be on my phone as much and be aware of my surroundings,” she said. “[I] try and keep all my stuff on me, because I had been in a few accidents coming from school, as far as me getting robbed.”

The students who were interviewed for the report recommended increasing the number and frequency of buses, and improving the accuracy of the TransitApp that MTA riders use to track bus and train services.

They also suggested adding more shelters and better lighting to bus stops, and allowing bus operators to be more lenient with students who have lost their OneCard or left it at home.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...

One reply on “Report: Baltimore City students unsatisfied with public transit services”

  1. Thank you for this article. The issues discussed affect every rider who uses MTA. Buses are dirty, smell bad, and some riders threaten public health by eating, drinking, and not wearing a mask. I try to avoid crowded buses because they can be dangerous. I work in East point, and buses on the Orange line are the worst in the fleet.

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