Tobytown residents look to expand transit options -- Gazette.Net


For Mary Wilson, even a quick trip to the grocery store can turn into an hours-long journey.

A resident of Potomac’s Tobytown community, Wilson has a car, but the cost of gas, insurance, maintenance and other variables means it’s often left sitting in her driveway, leaving her to make other arrangements for her transportation.

She often gets rides with three or four other residents in the same situation, meaning that even trip to the store for milk and a loaf of bread can take hours while her fellow riders run their various errands.

The closest Montgomery County Transit Ride On bus stop is at Travilah Elementary School, nearly 3 miles away, leaving many residents to walk, hitch a ride or carpool to get there.

Despite its distance from Tobytown, many residents do use the bus service, Wilson said.

On Thursday, several residents met with Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to present a petition asking that the county extend bus service closer to the small community off of River Road in Potomac.

Montgomery County spokeswoman Esther Bowring said Ride On has been told to come up with ideas for improving service to the area, and is examining options.

Leggett has also directed staff to set up a meeting with Tobytown residents, which is still being scheduled, Bowring said.

Sarah Segal, who helped orchestrate the petition drive that as of Monday had garnered 181 signatures, said the county has made efforts in the past to provide alternative forms of transportation.

There was briefly a van pool to shuttle Tobytown residents to the bus stops or where they needed to go, said Segal, who is hearing-impaired and spoke through a telephone translator.

Then, around the early 2000s, there was a taxi voucher program that provided residents with money for transportation, she said.

But the $120 a month provided by the vouchers wasn’t enough for people to get to jobs every day, and the program folded, she said.

Segal, 24, who lives in Fairfax, Va., grew up a few minutes away from Tobytown and said she has had an emotional attachment to the small community since she had a friend who lived there when they were growing up.

She’s also become something of an expert on the neighborhood built on property bought by freed slaves in 1875.

In the early 1970s, many of the tarpaper shacks in Tobytown were torn down and replaced with the townhouses that make up the neighborhood of about 150 residents today, she said.

According to the website for the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, in 1967 the county council declared Tobytown an urban renewal area and set aside money to construct new homes.

By December 1972, 26 units featuring from one to six bedrooms had been built.

Today, many residents own their homes, although there are some renters, according to the commission.

Segal said she sometimes gives rides to people trying to get to the bus stop, but she’s only one person and the residents deserve more.

Transportation has been an issue in Tobytown since the 1950s, she said.

Residents used to have access to jobs at farms that surrounded the community, but those jobs were squeezed out as development built up around Tobytown and the farms disappeared, Segal said.

Mary Wilson said residents will never be able to better themselves without reliable transportation, and points out that the communities around Tobytown would also benefit from a bus stop on River Road.

Wilson said she served as one of the drivers for the van pool when it existed, but like other efforts to improve the situation it quickly disappeared.

The community needs a Ride On bus, Wilson said.

“They always try something but nothing works,” she said.