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An Analysis of the Metro System in Howard County

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Public transportation is the backbone of nearly every modern society. It is widely utilized across the globe, from the London underground to Tokyo's expansive metro system. Its existence simultaneously reinforces the principles of egalitarianism, practicality, and sustainability. Public transit doesn’t just provide urban areas with affordable transportation, it also provides a green and environmentally-sustainable alternative to increasingly car-dependent areas., According to the University of California, Los Angeles, public transportation reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 45%, helping to decrease pollution and improve air quality in urban metropolises. The Clean Transportation Program has likewise found that riding by bus contributes, on average, 30% less to climate change than riding by car.

​With public transportation providing such immense benefits to both societies and the environment, it can be confusing and upsetting to be confronted with the United States’ stubborn dependency on automobiles. This especially rings true when local municipalities have been the only ones to improv and develop our public transportation systems over time. As an Ecoambassador for Howard Ecoworks, a lover of public transit systems and urban mobility, and a teenager without a car — I wanted to spread awareness of public transportation’s availability and viability even in largely-suburban Howard County. After obtaining a free bus pass through my high school, I set off on my mission: to take public transportation all over Howard County and convince others to do the same.

Luckily for me, public transportation in Howard County is much more extensive and wide-ranging than I first expected. Howard County is served by both the RTA (Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland) and the MTA (Maryland Transit Administration) transit systems, in addition to frequent MARC trains which run both to Baltimore and Washington D.C. I primarily utilized RTA bus lines, as they were the most affordable (being covered by my school’s pass) and the most local.

And so I set off! I explored many of the Columbia lines, including line 404 to the Columbia mall and line 305 to Lake Elkhorn. When I dared to venture beyond Columbia, I took line 405 from Columbia to Ellicott City and line 503 to Savage (here’s the system map for reference). During my ride I listened to music, made small talk with friendly strangers who I would have never met otherwise, and saw some picturesque locations.

​The public transportation system in Howard County proved even better than my already-high expectations. The service is expansive, as previously mentioned, and covers many locations in Howard County ranging from Ellicott City to Laurel and Elkridge. With 15 RTA lines and many more MTA and MARC options, it’s easy to traverse the county and state. For people with disabilities, the county also offers RTA mobility services, which is a shared-ride transportation system. I have no personal experience with this feature, but it shows the county’s commitment to inclusion and accessibility. The system is also affordable, starting at two dollars for a one-way fare. I know that safety is a big concern for many Howard County parents, from my anecdotal experience. I’m happy to reassure them that I always felt safe and secure waiting for, and being on, the public buses. They were clean, the entry and exit was easy, and I felt at ease while on the buses knowing that they were taking me where I wanted to go, exactly how I wanted to get there. My only critique with the system would be that service often operates in hourly intervals, which could be potentially inconvenient to regular commuters with a strict work schedule.

My transportation adventures in Howard County have improved my life in so many ways: I was able to explore so many cool new places, connect to my community in a closer, more personal way, and I was able to do my part to help the environment and reduce the burden of carbon dioxide emissions on our planet. I encourage all those in Howard County who might be reluctant or unwilling to use public transportation to give it a try — you might just be tempted to change your mind!

We at Howard EcoWorks would like to thank Evan for participating in our program, and Howard County Office of Community Sustainability Plastic Reduction and Environmental Protection grant program for funding our EcoAmbassador Program.

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