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Transit Changes In the Pipeline

The Cohen administration is proposing a number of changes to the transportation system in Annapolis, including the creation of a new circulator shuttle.

Late last year, the Cohen administration a number of changes to the city's bus system to fix problems, like late buses, which have plagued it for years.

Now, it seems those changes were just the beginning.

Last month, during the mayor's , Mayor Josh Cohen offered a number of different proposals that he said would help alleviate parking problems downtown, also helping to streamline and improve the city's public transportation infrastructure.

On the list was a proposed partnership with the local shuttle service eCruisers, installation of electronic parking meters, and a new circulator loop shuttle to serve residents and patrons of the downtown area. According to Richard Newell, director of the Annapolis Department of Transportation, the city is well on its way to getting the transportation system where it needs to be.

“We want to ensure that Annapolis transit is a service that is servicing all the citizens of the city, not just the transit-dependent,” said Newell in an interview with Patch earlier this month.

But he disagreed with the presumption that the city has a parking problem.

“There is a perception in the city that there is limited parking,” said Newell. “We have ample parking, but the real challenge is how to effectively communicate where that parking is, so now we're redesigning things to ensure that the mobility to and from that parking is readily and consistently available.”

Newell cited the 1,200 parking spaces at Park Place as an example of prime parking that often goes unused. The city hopes a circulator shuttle could help to bring people from a garage like the one at Park Place to the shops and restaurants downtown.

The proposed circulator would loop through Park Place, Knighton and Gott's garages before going down West and Duke of Gloucester streets to City Dock. Then, the circulator would go back up Main Street, passing the state office buildings and the Arundel Center, before going back to the three city garages.

One of the most vital components is a goal of no more than a 10-minute headway, with an average wait time between shuttles of six minutes. Everyone who parks in Park Place, Knighton, or Gotts will get a ticket that provides them unlimited ridership for the day. Those without a ticket can ride on the circulator for 50 cents per loop.

“If we're utilizing our own city lots, they've got to get on the circulator, and people don't mind waiting 10 minutes or less,” said Newell during his testimony this week. “We're working to make the circulator a one-time transaction deal.”

According to a presentation by Newell before the city council's finance committee at a recent public hearing, the cost of the circulator is estimated at $895,440 per year.

In the presentation, Newell also said that he anticipates the cost of a parking ticket at Park Place or Knighton to cost $5 under the plan, and assumes an operating cost of $70 per bus, per hour.

The transportation director also said he expects daily revenue of $196 and an expected fare revenue of $71,635 per year. Phill McGowan, a city of Annapolis spokesman said via email that the $71, 635 figure is based on "revenue from the fare box. That does not include a substantial increase in parking revenues that would result from people using the Circulator service."

Electronic Parking Meters

Another administration proposal centers on the idea of updating the city's parking meter system, in an attempt to "move into the 21st century," according to Newell.

While Newell doesn't have a specific idea of what the electronic system would look like yet, he said there are a few options, including a “pay-and-display” system, like the one already in place in the parking lot adjacent to Ego Alley. There, people pay with cash or a credit card and receive a printed ticket, which they display on their dashboards.

But the administration is also looking at systems already in place in cities like Baltimore and Washington DC, where people can download a mobile phone application that would allow payment via cell phone. ParkMobile, a company that offers a phone application-based parking system, boasts that such a method reduces costs and streamlines efficiency.

Newell said a switch to “pay-and-display” system would take more money upfront to implement; however, regardless of which system is ultimately chosen, it will take some time to become operational.

“Any implementation of either system would take between 120 and 140 days,” said Newell. “But we're looking to come into the 21st century in updating parking technology.”

Public-Private Partnership

While Newell hopes that the circulator will allow people to frequent the shops and restaurants downtown, without having to find a parking space in the limited areas by city dock, another proposal from the Cohen administration aims to open up parking spaces right on Main Street.

In his State of the City address, the Mayor included a proposal to partner with the local shuttle service eCruisers to bring city employees from the Park Place garage to their offices in City Hall. Currently, city employees park in the Hillman Garage behind Chick and Ruth's on Main Street. According to Newell, the proposal would exclude employees who need to be able to leave their office quickly to respond to work-related duties.

“There are essential employees who we may not move from Hillman because of the need for them to leave, but there are some who park there that park all day,” said Newell.

Estimating the number of employees parking at Hillman at more than 100, Newell said he thinks freeing up those parking spaces is another important step to creating a more inviting downtown for residents and visitors.

While the city feels the public-private partnership could have a positive effect on the parking situation, a deal with eCruisers is far from done, according to Russell Rankin, founder and owner of eCruisers LLC.

Rankin, who said he only found out about the proposed partnership two days before the mayor presented it at his State of the City address, said the partnership would involve eCruisers shuttling employees from Park Place to City Hall in the morning, and then back to Park Place in the evening.

Rankin's fleet of shuttle cars currently caters to shoppers and those out to restaurants downtown. But the change, he says, would fit perfectly into the mayor's vision of a “greener” Annapolis.

In tight budget times, it seems dollars and cents may prove to derail the plan.

“Frankly, their offer was kind of an insult,” said Rankin.

According to Rankin, a few days before the proposal was made public in Cohen's State of the City address, he was verbally offered $10,000 to run the city employee shuttle program for a year. But the two-shift service would cost more than the $40 per day that the city's offer would amount to, according to Rankin.

“I couldn't even get a driver up that early, and cover all the other costs, for that much,” said Rankin.

Rankin is still in talks with the city on reaching some sort of agreement.

While the partnership is far from a done deal, Rankin said he hoped the city and eCruisers could partner together on a slightly bigger task as well. Instead of having a circulator run by the city, Rankin proposed that eCruisers run the circulator program for a one-year trial period.

Rankin said he could operate the circulator at a cost of $300,000 to the city, far less than what he thinks the city will lose by operating a circulator themselves.

When asked if a public-private partnership for the circulator was feasible, Newell argued that certain things are the city's responsibility, and the circulator is one of them.

“When you talk about a city's transportation infrastructure, that's what a city's transportation department is for,” said Newell. “That's something that is a city responsibility.”

Ending RFP Process with City Garages

In a recent public hearing on the proposed budget held by the city council’s finance committee, Newell also outlined a plan to end an RFP process which had already been put on hold with Park America, the management company that has operated five of the city’s garages since 1997.

The Department of Transportation says the cost of the 2010 management contract with the company was $1,021,028, which is roughly one-third of the city's parking revenue for a year.

Patch Editor Mary McGuirt contributed to this article.

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