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Sunrise Shuttle Takes Early Morning Riders to Work

Because mass transit options are limited on the weekends for workers trying to reach the suburbs, some companies have begun sponsoring their own shuttles.

The free Sunrise Shuttle gets people to work on Sunday when the region’s transit systems are most limited. Capital News Service photo by Megan Brockett
The free Sunrise Shuttle gets people to work on Sunday when the region’s transit systems are most limited. Capital News Service photo by Megan Brockett
By MEGAN BROCKETT
Capital News Service

The sun has not yet risen over West Baltimore Street, where people are scattered around the sidewalk outside the University of Maryland Medical Center waiting for the shuttle that will take them to their jobs at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

It is Sunday, when about 60 airport employees rely on the free Sunrise Shuttle, funded by a federal grant and contributions from employers, to get to work on a day when the region’s mass transit service is most limited.

“I take this shuttle because light rail doesn’t start running” until 11 a.m., said Jerome Nelson, who was headed to his job at Prospect Airport Services. “I’d be late.”

The shuttle, operated by the BWI Business Partnership, makes its first  run at 4:30 a.m. and makes four trips on the half-hour from the West Baltimore Street stop to BWI airport. The partnership started the service in 2011 as a partial fix to a problem that is not unique to the airport and its employees.

 In a city with an unemployment rate above 10 percent and a third of households without a car, transportation stands as one of the biggest barriers between Baltimore’s job seekers and a growing concentration of jobs in the suburbs that require low or modest skills.

Many of the Sunrise Shuttle riders, a sliver of the more than 45,000 Baltimoreans who rely on public transit to get to work, face weekday commutes that take an hour or longer to get from the city to the Anne Arundel County airport about 10 miles south.

On Sundays, those commuters in Baltimore must cope with more limited mass transit service, including a light rail system that doesn’t begin running until 11, hours later than its weekday start and five hours later than its start time on Saturdays.

The BWI Business Partnership created the service to help workers and the employers with non-traditional hours who depend on them. 

A non-profit transportation management association, the partnership works with local businesses and local, state and federal government agencies to bridge some of the transportation gaps that employees face.

The Sunrise Shuttle is one several services provided by the BWI Business Partnership, including shuttles that run during more traditional work hours when the MTA is running full service. Programs like Work on Wheels, for example, take workers and job seekers from Baltimore to suburban job sites in Howard County that are inaccessible by MTA routes.

The airport is a focal point for groups like the partnership and organizations that help people find work because of the number of jobs there.

Sid Wilson, a transportation project manager at the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, said employers at the airport and in the surrounding area are having a difficult time filling jobs and keeping them filled.

“You have 10,000 positions within BWI, [and] you also have the hotels,” Wilson said. “This part of the county is [a] major, major hospitality industry, and they’re all underserved.”

Wilson said many businesses in the region struggle with low employee retention rates because many workers don’t have reliable transportation. People will often find ways to get to work when they start a job, because “they’re in desperation,” he said, but over time, that’s not sustainable. Without reliable transportation, they end up missing days and eventually lose their jobs.

Ben Cohen, the director of transportation and workforce programs at the BWI Business Partnership, said that employers appreciate and benefit from the Sunrise Shuttle as much as the employees who depend on it.

“The cost of employee turnover for a business is very high, so if they hire someone who can’t get out there on Sundays, they have to find another employee,” Cohen said. The shuttle service, he said, “is a win-win.”

Some businesses in the region are even sponsoring their own shuttles, which shows employers know that transportation is an issue, according to Brian O’Malley, CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

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