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Meet Baltimore's Most Passionate Transit Fan

This MTA user is a virtual bus whisperer and he has turned down jobs because he wouldn't be able to ride mass transit.

Thomas Reaves can recite more statistics about the MTA than the agency itself readily offers. Capital News Service photo by Justine McDaniel
Thomas Reaves can recite more statistics about the MTA than the agency itself readily offers. Capital News Service photo by Justine McDaniel
By JUSTINE MCDANIEL
Capital News Service

Thomas Reaves looks out the coffee shop window every few minutes as he talks.

He pauses each time, just for a moment, no doubt calculating in his mind: late, on time, on time.

He says he can tell if a bus is on schedule just by looking -- he could tell even from a photograph, he says -- and he doesn’t seem to be able to stop his eyes from flicking up whenever a bus drives by.

Reaves, an insurance agent who lives in Northwest Baltimore, has been collecting data about buses in the city since he was a teenager. He knows more statistics than the Maryland Transit Administration itself hands out, able to rattle off numbers and history that cover everything from the number of buses on the streets of Baltimore to the exact amount of time it takes the light rail to travel from one end to the other.

Reaves could well be the most passionate transit fan most Baltimoreans have ever met, but he is simply part of a worldwide subculture of mass transit enthusiasts.

They travel, collect obscure trivia, and share photos via web forums. On one Facebook group for the New York MTA, users nickname their favorite buses and exchange information about travel times and route snags. 

For Reaves, 33, transportation is important because it is the only way many people can afford to get around, he said. 

He has become one of the most active community advocates for public transportation in Baltimore.

“I’m affected by it, and I want to help people be able to transport and get to their places.”

In high school, Reaves began carrying the MTA bus schedule in his backpack. He quickly memorized it and became a self-described walking customer-service line, answering questions for other riders.

Today, Reaves is head of the Baltimore Transit Archives, a community group of 100 members who discuss MTA activity in Baltimore.

He counts MTA drivers as friends, and he sometimes talks shop with people in the department, who he said keep him up to date on MTA news.

MTA service director Michael Walk said the Baltimore Transit Archives, which mainly communicates via Facebook, is an asset to the region.

In “the cyber sphere, [Reaves] is able to get people to think about specific ideas for changes and balance pros and cons, so he’s a very valuable person,” Walk said. “It’s the best kind of person that you want in the community to be engaged in these kind of projects.”

Reaves is in school at the Community College of Baltimore County. He worked at a warehouse in Timonium for eight years before getting his current job at Kelly and Associates Insurance Group in Hunt Valley.

Reaves dreams of becoming a scheduler for the MTA after he graduates. If not, he says he’ll go into accounting, and he hopes some day to move to Southern California.

But first, he wants to help change the MTA.

Childhood bus rides with his mother were the first experience Reaves had traveling, and the thrill never wore off, he says. Reaves has gone to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Ore. and Canada, among other places, to learn about their transit systems and photograph what he sees. He now has a collection of more than 35,000 photographs of transit vehicles.

Reaves said he is excited about the Bus Network Improvement Project, the MTA’s new initiative to update their system, pleased that the department is asking riders for comments and suggestions.

He takes public transit to work every day, using a combination of the bus and light rail. Reaves said he generally has a pleasant, reliable commute.

But he has also experienced the limitations of the system firsthand. He said he has turned down “great” jobs because he couldn’t get to them on mass transit, and he recently completed driving school, in hopes that getting a car will make it easier to find employment.

Along with some friends, he is in the process of starting the DMV Mass Transit Museum, which would be dedicated to the history of Maryland transit. It would feature some of his photographs as well as other relics he and his colleagues have collected, like MTA bus schedules dating back to the 1950s.

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