Riding in shadow of attacks

After recent violence on MTA buses, some patrons are wary but unwilling to give up their transportation

December 30, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

No matter what his four daughters say, 77-year-old Edward Garbus remains a loyal customer of the Maryland Transit Administration. His daughters plead with him and offer him rides to wherever he needs to go - especially after four violent incidents in the past month on MTA buses.

Garbus turns them down.

"My daughters have fancy-schmancy cars, and they say, `Don't ride the bus,'" said the Mount Vernon resident.

A mischievous smile formed on his face. "But I ride it every day."

Many MTA bus riders, like Garbus, are aware of the recent spate of violence on city buses. But many of them say it's not an everyday occurrence that would deter them from riding.

In four separate attacks this months, several victims were beaten, one teenager was stabbed and another one shot on MTA buses, prompting transportation officials to step up its police presence and announce plans to boost security.

After riding the bus every day for 15 years, Garbus said he has never seen a disturbance on a bus.

His only complaint as he sat riding on a No. 27 bus - the same route on which a woman was punched, kicked and dragged off the bus by middle school students Dec. 4 - was: "The kids get loud sometimes."

After buying some toys for his grandchildren yesterday at the Wal-Mart in Port Covington, Garbus boarded the 27 bus, popped earphones in and tuned in to his favorite classical music station. Sometimes he rides the bus when he has nowhere to go, just to enjoy the city while listening to his favorite composer, Claude Debussy.

This worries his third daughter, Samantha Vacknin of Parkville.

"He rides all over, and obviously we're not thrilled about it," she said in a phone interview. "He just won't have it. He wants to maintain his independence."

For some passengers, the bus is their only way around town.

When asked about her thoughts on bus security, Elaine Tomlin shrugged.

"I have to use it because I have no other way," said the 50-year-old from West Baltimore. "I got to go where I got to go, so I got to ride the bus."

A Saturday ride through the city had few passengers, with mainly shoppers boarding with bags from grocery stores and shopping centers.

As the No. 27 bus passed through Cherry Hill, some passengers dozed off. Two teenagers sat in the back, looking out the window and listening to music so loud their headphones couldn't contain it. One woman chatted excitedly on her cell phone, leaving her conversation on speakerphone for everyone in the bus to hear.

Another woman sat in the back seat drinking from a can wrapped in a plastic bag while talking to herself. "I miss turkey, mashed potatoes and all kinda cakes," she muttered.

The buses are busier on weekdays, when there are commuters traveling to and from work and students going to school.

Many bus riders blame unsupervised youth for causing trouble on the MTA buses. Onboard a No. 51 bus, with cobalt-blue seats marked with graffiti, Louella Stevenson, 74, said she doesn't worry about safety on the city buses but worries about the kids.

On Dec. 18, a fight broke out among teenagers in the rear of a No. 51 bus near Mondawmin Mall, leaving one girl with a stab wound in the arm.

As the No. 51 pulled past the shopping mall yesterday, Stevenson said she and her young fellow passengers come from "a different generation.

"These young kids come on the bus and feel like it's theirs," she said. "There ain't much the MTA can do. The parents got to control their kids. These teenagers are out of control. They got so much on their minds, they do what they do out of frustration."

Others make it a point to avoid the bus at after-school hours when buses are packed with children and teenagers. Clarence Lewis, a 56-year-old passenger on the No. 15 bus, waits about half an hour to an hour after work to avoid riding in a bus full of kids.

"I don't want to put myself in danger," he said, shaking his head as the westbound No. 15 bus made its way through a winding West Forest Park Avenue. "Kids have no respect. It's not like it used to be. The seventh-graders and eighth-graders, their mouth is worse than some of the grown-ups."

Levita Rouse, 45, also avoids traveling on the bus right after school lets out.

"If the police get on more often during the peak times, they would cut down on the violence," she said as she rode on the No. 64 bus - a route two men were riding when they were assaulted by a group of five on Hanover Street in Brooklyn on Dec. 10.

In the latest incident on an MTA bus, a teenager was shot on the No. 15 bus on the 1100 block of Poplar Grove St. about 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Police say the youth was in an argument and the shooter fired after getting off the bus. The victim was struck in the leg; police said last week that his injuries are not life-threatening.

As the No. 15 bus headed downtown, passengers crammed into the vehicle, leaving barely any standing room. At one stop, an elderly, silver-haired woman hobbled into the packed bus.

A tall male teenager with a black hoodie over his head instantly shot up from his seat and motioned for the woman to come and sit.


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