County Commuter's new transfer center praised

August 01, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Washington County Commuter's new Transit Transfer Center at 123 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown opened Monday morning.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Waiting for a bus Monday morning on a shiny new bench under the shade of a metal canopy, John Mawyer of Hagerstown summed up the difference between the Washington County Commuter’s new Transit Transfer Center on West Franklin Street and its old transfer point on West Washington Street with an analogy.

“This is heaven, and that’s the end of the world,” Mawyer said.

The old transfer point, where buses pulled over to the side of the road under a railroad bridge, was cramped, dangerous due to traffic, prone to drunken loiterers and smelled of urine, Mawyer said.

“If you take the wrong step, you’re gonna get run over,” he said of the former stop.

At 6 a.m. Monday, that old transfer point was replaced with the newly completed transfer center at 123 W. Franklin St., where as many as eight buses at a time can pull off the street and park while passengers get on and off or transfer to another route.

The transfer center has eight benches under its long canopy and a building currently used for bus drivers to take breaks. The building has restrooms and a window for ticket and pass sales, but those will not open to the public until the transit system can receive additional grant funding to staff the building, Washington County Transportation Director Kevin D. Cerrone said.

The more than $1.1 million transfer center project was funded with $875,000 in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and $248,500 in grant money from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Neighborhood Conservation Initiative.

A parking lot for county employees built next to the transfer center was completed as part of the same construction contract, but it was paid for with county funds.

The transfer center and the neighboring lot are on land the county bought in 2008.

Cerrone said Monday afternoon that the first day at the new transfer center went better than anticipated. There were more people at the new transfer center than were typically seen at the old transfer point, he said. Officials will not know until this time next week, when ridership numbers are reported, whether the difference was due to higher ridership or simply more of the usual riders choosing to wait at the transfer center instead of at other stops.

Many of the riders waiting at the transfer center Monday morning praised the ample bench space, convenient boarding patterns and open, off-street location of the new center.

Jessica Harvey, a Hagerstown Community College student, said the extra block she will have to walk to the new transfer center will be worth it.

“This is so much nicer to have to look at while I wait on the bus,” she said.

At the old transfer point, the benches were covered with pigeon droppings and “unidentifiable stuff,” and the bus stops were near a liquor store, Harvey said.

“It seems like it will be a lot better than the old one,” agreed Jose Merete of Hagerstown, as he watched five buses loading passengers at once. “The way they’ve got the spaces (for bus barking), we won’t be so crowded up getting on the bus.”

Merete said the biggest drawback he noticed about the new center was that there were not any trash cans or cigarette-disposal containers.

Cerrone said trash cans, cigarette-disposal containers and bike racks were ordered too late to be installed in time for Monday’s opening, but should be installed Tuesday.

Only one rider asked about the new transfer center Monday morning said he preferred the old location. Ryan Squires, who lives on South Burhans Boulevard, said the West Washington Street transfer point was closer to his house.

“I do like this setup,” Squires said of the new station, which he said feels safer.

Key changes to Washington County Commuter operations effective Aug. 1:

  • Magnetic Stripe Transfers are now in use as part of the new electronic fare collection system. Transfers will be issued and accepted only at the transfer center and will be good for one hour. They will be issued to passengers when exiting the bus.
  • The Robinwood route schedule will move to a departure time of 15 minutes after the hour from the transfer center and will only enter HCC once per trip.
  • The new transfer center requires the restructuring of the bus routes throughout downtown Hagerstown. The Public Square bus stop will be eliminated; however, a bus stop at the intersection of West Washington Street and Summit Avenue has been added, giving bus service to every street corner within one block of Public Square. Bus service will still be available at the corner of West Washington and Walnut streets in the area of Walnut Towers.

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