MARC agent's remarks to new commuter prompt hearing

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

March 28, 1994

Was it rudeness or something more?

That's the question lingering in the mind of Raimundo Brown after a recent confrontation with a ticket agent at the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) station in Laurel.

Mr. Brown believes he was treated to a heaping dose of racism, the kind of second-class treatment that taints the history of public transit but was thought to be eliminated a generation ago.

"I've never experienced anything like that," he says. "I think it deserves to be brought out in the open."

Mr. Brown, 24, is a technical adviser for a Columbia firm that accredits medical laboratories. Dressed in khaki pants, loafers, a white shirt and tie, he visited the MARC station on Feb. 28, hoping to ride the train home to Washington.

It was his first time on the MARC system. Here is his written account of what happened:

"Having never been to the Laurel station before, I did not know where to enter. I tried two doors that were locked. Even though it was obvious that I was trying to enter the station, I received no guidance from the attendant who watched me from the window."

"When I walked to the window, the attendant looked away. I tapped on the window. The attendant literally yelled, 'Don't tap on the damn window!! The door is open!!'

"When I entered the door, I approached the window only for the attendant to continue ranting about 'banging on the window.' I told him that I tapped on the window to get his attention. He went on about 'so much vandalism by you people.'

"I asked him when the next train to Washington would arrive. He responded by yelling, 'There's a schedule on the wall!'

"To that statement he added, 'You can purchase your ticket on the train.' "

Mr. Brown writes that there was some heated conversation and then the man threatened to call the police.

A ticket was eventually purchased. Mr. Brown and a colleague who witnessed the exchange went on their way.

As you have probably figured out, the attendant is white and Mr. Brown is black.

We brought Mr. Brown's letter to the attention of both David V. Nogar, MARC's director, and his boss, John A. Agro Jr., head of the Mass Transit Administration. They were none too pleased to hear the allegations.

Keep in mind, of course, that the ticket agent is not a state employee. Laurel is on the Camden Line, where the tracks and equipment are owned and operated by CSX Transportation under a lease agreement with MARC.

Representatives of the MTA contacted CSX.

A company official interviewed the man and found his account of the incident differed substantially from Mr. Brown's.

Mr. Agro decided to press further, and CSX agreed to conduct a formal investigation into the incident and hold a disciplinary hearing. At that hearing, Mr. Brown will be given a chance to relate his version of events.

"If the employee were found guilty of having conducted himself in the manner described in this letter, this is not the kind of individual we would want in MARC service," Mr. Agro said.

"We take this very seriously."

The incident touches a sensitive area for MARC. Passengers have long complained about unfriendly conductors and station employees.

In October the MTA opened a charm school for MARC personnel, including CSX customer service employees.

Called the "Transit Ambassador" program, the four-day class teaches workers to be more friendly and outgoing.

Mr. Nogar said he has seen improvements in courtesy already. Officials were not aware if the ticket agent in question is a graduate of the class.

The MTA has promised to pass along any decisions that result from the disciplinary hearing.

Incidentally, if you've been involved in a similar encounter with MARC workers, you may complain in writing to Mr. Nogar at 5 Amtrak Way, P.O. Box 8718, BWI Airport, Maryland 21240-8718.

Loyalties flaunted on logo license tags

A faithful reader was driving around Baltimore the other day when he saw a buckeye plastered to a license plate.

Curious, he examined the plate a bit closer. It had the initials, "OH," stacked in the middle and a four digit number on the right. On the left was the symbol for Ohio State University.

(He could tell it was Ohio State, in part, because the car also had a bumper sticker: "I Brake for All Animals Except Wolverines" or words to that effect directed at OSU's archrival Michigan.)

How did an Ohio logo wind up on a Maryland license? Intrepid Commuter went searching for an answer at the Motor Vehicle Administration.

Much to our surprise, license plates with logos have been offered by the MVA since 1990. They have been a rarity until this year, however. That's because the legislature reduced the fee for a logo tag from $25 yearly -- the same amount paid for a personalized tag -- to a one-time fee of $15. Since Jan. 1 when the fee was reduced, the number of logos has increased from 5 to 19.

Still, there are only about 2,000 such plates in circulation. Any non-profit organization with at least 25 members can apply for a logo plate.

There are about 65,000 personalized plates in circulation and about 51,000 organizational plates. The latter are the kind with three letters and four numbers and usually the name of the sponsoring group printed across the bottom of the tag, i.e., "SKI0001" for the Baltimore Ski Club.

As long as we were at the MVA, we decided to sit down at their computer to look at what kind of personalized plates are in circulation.

Here's what we found out: JESUS lives in Capitol Heights, while the DEVIL is in Annapolis (No big surprise there).

UNKNOWN lives in Baltimore. The COLTS moved to Fallston.

CRAZY, MAD and INSANE have all been claimed by people who should be kept at an appropriate distance on the highway. RTC There's a ROADHOG in Perry Hall and a guy riding in a LEMON in Beltsville.

Surprisingly, RIPKEN is available and so is GOD for that matter. BOBBITT is owned by a married couple.

INTREPD is taken by some guy in Severna Park. Drat.

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