Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No end in sight for transit system violence

Will the violence on Baltimore area transit systems ever end?

In the latest of a series of violent incidents on Maryland Transit Administration property, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded on board a bus in West Baltimore this morning, according to city police.

Agent Donny Moses, a department spokesman, said the incident occurred about 12:45 a.m. on the No. 15 bus in the 1100 block of Poplar Grove St. He said the youth got into an argument with another male, who stepped off the bus at a stop, then leaned back in and fired a shot, hitting the boy in the leg.

In the latest of a series of violent incidents on Maryland Transit Administration property, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded on board a bus in West Baltimore this morning, according to city police.

Agent Donny Moses, a department spokesman, said the incident occurred about 12:45 a.m. on the No. 15 bus in the 1100 block of Poplar Grove St. He said the youth got into an argument with another male, who stepped off the bus at a stop, then leaned back in and fired a shot, hitting the boy in the leg.
This is just the latest in a series of violent incidents on Maryland Transit Administration operated systems. Problem is that, at least with last week's unveiling, the MTA has been asleep at the switch for months on the issue of safety on public transit:

Bus operators are being encouraged to call police and stop the vehicle at the first sign of disruptive behavior as part of a plan to curb violence on public transit, the Maryland Transit Administration announced yesterday.

Responding to a series of assaults recently on its buses in Baltimore, the MTA also said it would step up patrols by its police force and forge a closer working relationship with the Baltimore Police Department and the city school system.

Among other steps, the MTA plans to speed notification of city officers when an incident occurs on a bus or other transit facilities in the city. Under this change, city police would receive word of 911 calls involving MTA facilities at the same time as the transit agency's police force so the closest unit could respond.

"Whoever gets there first," said MTA Police Chief David C. Franklin. "It's not about egos. It's about making the system safe."

At a news conference at the Mondawmin Mall Transit Center, MTA Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld described what he called a "comprehensive approach to disruptive behavior," called Operation: Safe Transport.

"We want to reassure citizens we have taken strong measures to protect public transit users," he said.

Of course, I have anything but confidence in the MTA to fix these problems. The fact of the matter is that public transit overseen by the MTA has never been safe, and few measures seem to ever be taken to make the system safer other than going beyond lip service. And lip service sounds exactly like what the MTA is proposing now, because a lot of these things make me think, "Wait, they didn't do this before?" Are the people over at the MTA really so clueless that they didn't think to step up its patrols until after several acts of violence on its system? Does anybody have a clue over there?

What's completely disheartening about the MTA is the fact that they seem to be oblivious to the issue of rider safety (much like they are with competent timetables) while at the same time asking for billions of dollars in new construction and improvements to expand MARC rail, and also to build new transit options in Baltimore City. However, the MTA clearly can't get it's act together to male their current system safe. So why should anybody expect the need for a multi-billion dollar expansion when people will likely avoid the system since the system can't provide them with a safe environment? And it's not just the issue of crime, but the issue of existing infrastructure that adds to this problem.

Clearly, I believe that privatization is what needs to happen here in order for the mass transit to get it's act together here in Maryland. However, since the likelihood of that happening in the immediate future is slim, I think that it is time that the General Assembly cut all new spending directed at the MTA until the MTA gets its house in order. Until public transit in Baltimore is relatively safe, we should not spend one penny more in state money to expand a system that cannot promise its riders a safe environment.

(Crossposted)

1 comment:

Bruce Godfrey said...

While I am a much stronger and enthusiastic advocate of public transit spending than you for both local and regional, I agree that the MTA bus services are a disgrace. DC's system - I refer to the BUSES, not the crown jewel rail system - is so much better; it is a true joy to ride the MetroBus and I do it reasonably often.

Take a trip to Lexington Market and count the untold garbage on the bricks outside the Metro Station, the boarded-up and dying pedestrian zone. Then go into the Metro station and look at the caked-on grime on the poorly-lighted walls and aluminum frames holding ads for the Transit Police referencing "Pride." If they had pride, they would fix the lights and buy a bottle of Windex. It's a disgrace.

Some will say that Baltimore is a poorer city than DC, that DC has the federal government. But DC cannot tax its largest industry nor the majority of the people who work there. Baltimore can (and DOES, mercilessly) tax substantially its entire land base and while it cannot directly tax the incomes of suburbanites, the General Assembly makes large transfer payments to the City and to state institutions that serve the City like the MTA.

A little known fact about the DC Metro and the Baltimore Metro is that the systems use the same gauge, voltage and analogous equipment. The trains are actually interchangeable and, given a properly located portal and another 25 miles of rail, one-seat direct service on 6-car trains is theoretically possible from Alexandria to East Baltimore. I think it would be good to have such service, though the cost would be enormous, though rights of way are being proposed that would minimize tunnelling and eminent domain seizures.

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