Since 1998, Monday through Friday ridership on the MTA's commuter buses that serve Route 991 to Western Maryland has tripled, according to agency spokeswoman Cheron Wicker.
In 1998, ridership was an average of 198 people a day and by 2004 it had increased to 591.
A lower cost of living, significantly lower home prices and the charm of the Tri-State area's rural setting continue to attract a growing number of professionals to Washington County, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, local real estate agents said.
For some, the early commute by bus is a welcome alternative to tackling the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 270.
"It's no standard of life," Vermuelen said. "After about an hour and a half in traffic, that's my breaking point and I've been exceeding that frequently for the last three years, at least."
Kim Olson drives from Falling Waters, W.Va., to catch the Route 991 communter bus to her job at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C.
"I've been doing it for three years and it's killing me. It's a solid two hours one way," she said as she hurried to get on the bus.
Roberto Oliva, a minister with The Hispanic Christian Missionary Alliance, was enthusiastic about taking Route 991's commuter bus to his office in Rockville, Md.
"I've been doing it for about five months and I love it, it's very convenient," he said.
Lisa Johnson, a legal secretary who works in Washington, D.C., moved to Washington County with her family three years ago.
"I love my house, I love the area where I live, but the commute is a bit much," she said.
But the commute is a sacrifice she's willing to make for a slower pace, she said.
MTA's commuter bus Route 991 makes four pickups at the Motor Vehicle Administration's parking lot between 5 and 6:35 a.m. Parking is free and available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Equipped with six television monitors, a bathroom and plush seats, charter buses transport commuters from Hagerstown to Frederick, Md., where they can catch Maryland's MARC train. In Frederick, additional riders board and the bus goes on to the Shady Grove metro station, followed by a stop at the Rock Spring Business Park in Montgomery County.
A complete listing of specific times and stops is available at
www.mtamaryland.com or by calling 1-800-RIDE-MTA or 410-539-5000.
Travel costs depends on the length of the trip. A one-way fare can cost from $3.50 to $5.75 a day. Commuters can purchase 10-trip tickets for $45, a transit information representative said.
A monthly pass from Hagerstown to Shady Grove averages about $170 a month.