Countering Light Rail Crime

July 02, 1994

It's a good thing the folks at the Mass Transit Administration don't take their cues from their boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

MTA officials who oversee the Central Light Rail Line that runs between Timonium and Glen Burnie were alarmed at the increase in crime statistics along the line: 71 incidents of assaults, robberies and car thefts on or near the light rail system from June to December last year. On top of that was a sharp rise in shoplifting at some stores near the line. The MTA, to its credit, admitted that it underestimated the vulnerability of the light rail system it unveiled two years ago and now is taking corrective measures.

The transit authority has announced plans to put an MTA officer on every train. Previously, three or four officers were assigned to cover 10 trains at a time. The authority has also arranged for police officers in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties to patrol the 24 stations and surrounding areas to free up MTA personnel to man the trains. The authority also plans to augment its staff with 75 student interns, helping out both on the rail cars and in community outreach. The MTA wants to continue the "honor system" for ticket purchases, but plans to check three times as many riders as before to discourage scofflaws.

The only mistake the MTA has made in this corrective program it dubs as "the Together Project" was escorting Mr. Schaefer to the announcement at Camden Yards. The governor, who has somehow won a reputation for being astute at public relations, blasted away at the media for over-dramatizing crime on light rail. "Every once in a while, the newspapers play up a story," the governor said. He essentially dismissed the problem as a matter of perception.

If anything, the media have been boosters of mass transit. Editorially, we've supported the light rail system to the consternation of hundreds of residents in Linthicum who demanded -- wrongly, we felt -- the closing of a station. Another 75 people also turned out for a session on light rail safety in Lutherville last week.

MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. and his colleagues originally miscalculated the crime factor on the fledgling system, but at least they listened to the complaints and moved to make substantive change. Residents should be thankful the MTA didn't hew to the governor's line that any crime problems infecting light rail are just a figment of someone's unwarranted imagination.

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