After months of work on the details, the Fort Meade garrison started on Tuesday a shuttle service for employees and residents between the Odenton MARC Station and the post.

In an agreement finalized this month, a shuttle operated by the National Security Agency will take on any passenger from the station with valid DoD identification or a Fort Meade visitor pass as well as pick up garrison employees bound for the station. There will be no charge for the rides.

The new travel option builds off an existing service of the NSA, which has been running a shuttle between the MARC station and its own Visitor Control Center along Route 32 and Canine Road since 2005, said Jerry Stitely, an NSA transportation specialist.

"As the installation grows, leveraging mass transit is crucial for an efficient community and protecting the environment," said Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas. "And the fact that NSA is generously sharing their service to everyone demonstrates their care of the entire Fort Meade community."

Under the new plan, a roughly 28-seat NSA shuttle marked as Odenton/VCC or simply VCC will pick up NSA and garrison employees as well as post residents each week between Monday and Friday.

The shuttle will make seven departures from the MARC station to Fort Meade beginning at 5:52 a.m. and will begin return trips to the station at 3:25 p.m. The shuttle will make stops at the Post Theater, Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center and at the intersection of Ernie Pyle Street and Mapes Road.

Service, however, will operate on the NSA schedule. The shuttle does not run on federal holidays or when the agency is closed, Stitely said.

"We're thinking we'll still be able to meet demand without affecting service on our side," he said.

The shuttle service is technically a pilot program, but there is no set timeline for how long it will run, Stitely said.

"There isn't an end date yet, and I doubt there will be if it is successful," he said.

While riding the shuttle is free, commuters who hitch a ride may be able to receive a voucher for using the mass-transit option. Under a DoD policy to encourage mass transit, commuters who use some sort of mass transit option to get to the station may receive a monthly $115 stipend under the Transportation Initiative Program.

Currently, Fort Meade only has about 50 participants enrolled in TIP. But enlisting more people may be easier as the post prepares to welcome thousands of new employees by 2011 due to the Federal Base Realignment and Closure process, which is bringing federal agencies such as the Defense Information Systems Agency to Fort Meade.

"With BRAC coming on, I think a lot of people will be interested in using this service," said Russell Riley, Fort Meade's TIP manager.

DISA employees, thousands of whom will have their jobs moved from northern Virginia, have expressed concern at past DISA meetings over transportation to the installation from the MARC line and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Metrorail, said Bill McAlpin, chief of manpower and personnel system support at DISA.

"We're hoping [the shuttle is] exactly what they're looking for," he said.

With the installation's roads facing nearly $50 million in repairs and upgrades, according to a recently completed traffic analysis, this mass transit option could help reduce traffic on post.

Opening the NSA shuttle service to a wider post public is the result of discussions tracing back to April 2008. Multiple organizations, both public and private, have explored the feasibility of running a shuttle service between the post and local mass-transit hubs. The installation's own effort to use a government vehicle for shuttle service was set aside, as it could not service as many trains as the NSA shuttle, said Mick Butler, director of the post's Environmental Division.

"[Providing a shuttle service] has been a priority because we must continue to grow and improve our transportation infrastructure and methods of service to the community," Thomas said.

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