Charm City Circulator, out of commission during holiday weekend, will have limited service through mid-January

Published 12/31/2022 3:49 p.m. EST, Updated 1/3/2023 3:52 p.m. EST

A view of the Baltimore City skyline, as seen from Federal Hill in South Baltimore.

The Charm City Circulator, the free bus system that transports riders throughout downtown and central Baltimore neighborhoods, will not run until Tuesday due to scheduled maintenance, and will have a limited schedule until mid-January, according to city officials.

The bus service is out of commission as a new vendor, First Transit, takes over operation of the fleet, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Transportation.

“Standard practice is for the new contractor to inspect all vehicles and create initial condition reports before placing any vehicles in service,” transportation spokesperson Marly Cardona-Moz said in an email. “First Transit, in conjunction with a third-party facility, will be working expeditiously this holiday weekend to conduct the necessary inspections and repairs to expedite the process.”

First Transit took over the operations of the Circulator system on Dec. 31, Cardona-Moz said.

While the Circulator is scheduled to resume operations on Jan. 2, First Transit will continue its inspections and restore full service by the middle of the month, Cardona-Moz said. She noted that MTA buses, Light Rail and subway would be in service over the holiday weekend.

City Councilman Eric Costello, whose district includes downtown and central parts of the city, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jed Weeks, interim executive director of Bikemore, said the service outage could create issues for New Year’s Eve revelers.

“It’s unfortunate to have a free alternative shut down on New Year’s Eve when people will be out and about and drinking and looking to get home safely,” he said.

Weeks said his organization and the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance have long called for Baltimore officials to take a critical look at the Circulator and its role in the city’s transportation system. He noted that several high-ranking officials have recently left the city’s transportation department, including its director.

“This is yet another lesson that the mayor needs to focus on hiring a really good director for the Department of Transportation and ensure that these Complete Streets initiatives have the resources they need to succeed which they have not had historically,” said Weeks, referring to the policy favoring pedestrians, cyclists and transit users in road design.

The Circulator also did not run on Christmas Day. In previous years, the bus system has had extended hours on New Year’s Eve, but did not run on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

For the first time since 2019, Baltimore will have a fireworks display at midnight to mark the start of the new year. The fireworks will be fired from a barge in the Inner Harbor, and the show will last about 15 minutes, according to city officials. The city canceled a concert and other festivities due to rain.

The fireworks show did not happen in the previous two years due to the pandemic.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens are set to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium at 8:20 p.m.

The Circulator typically operates Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m.-midnight; Saturday, 9 a.m.-midnight; and Sunday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

In 2019, the city’s spending board approved a three-year, $25.9 million contract with Errands Plus Inc., to run the service as the city sued a former operator, Transdev Services, for allegedly overcharging by tens of millions of dollars, according to a report from WYPR.

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