MTA could learn from Charles Village slaying

Agency isn't at fault, but it could do more to steer riders to its buses

August 02, 2010

The Maryland Transit Administration gets blamed for a lot of things, but one thing the agency can't be faulted for is the chain of events that led to the slaying of Stephen Pitcairn in Charles Village a week ago.

It's not clear just when Pitcairn arrived at the Bolt Bus stop at Penn Station and embarked on his fatal walk up St. Paul Street. What is certain is that he could have caught a bus at the Charles Street end of the station. Even late on a Sunday, two routes could have dropped him off within a block of his house — in a safer place than the block in which he was robbed and stabbed to death.

If his timing had been lucky, he might have caught a bus almost right away. If he hadn't been so lucky, he could have ended up waiting about 40 minutes. Either way, his cost would have been $1.60 — well within the means of even a cash-strapped young researcher.

The MTA can't be faulted for not running enough buses to Penn Station. It was a Sunday night, when travel volumes hit rock bottom. The agency has to live within its budget. But this tragedy should get minds at the MTA thinking about what they could do better to capture the business of the next young person who comes into Penn Station late at night with the choice of a risky walk or a much safer bus ride.

To most visitors and many longtime residents, the MTA bus system is a mystery. The route numbers are no more than gobbledygook. Even if you get to a stop, there's no good way to tell when the next bus is coming. The printed timetables at many bus stops are fanciful. No wonder people gravitate to other modes of transport — even shoe leather at night.

The MTA and other transportation providers could do some things better. Prominent signage and maps inside Penn Station — and at the Bolt Bus stop — could tell travelers where they can catch buses and light rail and where each will take them.

The incident also underscores the urgency of implementing an electronic system — such as the GPS-based one used by the Charm City Circulator on St. Paul Street — to tell people when to expect the next bus.

Maybe an arrangement could be worked out with Bolt Bus to have drivers announce bus connections as they approach Penn Station — at least after dark. A similar deal could be cut with Amtrak. After all, both carriers have an interest in seeing their customers get home safely.

It would be good to see all these players — as well as city police and transportation officials and taxi company executives — get together and hash out ways to steer late-arriving passengers to safe transportation home. It's too late for Pitcairn, but not for some other young person who arrives at Penn Station on a beautiful night with a full moon.

Green suggestions take root

Several weeks ago, the Getting There blog told the story of a woman named Maria Dobbs and the things she noticed about  the newly renovated rest stops at South Mountain off Interstate 270 after they were reopened in June.

Dobbs thought the State Highway Administration could have made its "green" project a bit greener, so she sent her suggestions to Getting There. Those ideas were forwarded  to Dave Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, and he promised the agency would take a look at them.

It appears that wasn't the old bureaucratic brush-off. Buck wrote back last week to say the SHA concurred with Dobbs' observations and would take action on her suggestions about the project on the Frederick-Washington county line.

"SHA agrees with both of Ms. Dobbs suggestions and we have taken steps to make these improvements.  By [the close of business last Wednesday], eight new recycling bins will be installed; four at each of the eastbound and westbound I-70 rest areas at South Mountain.  We are mounting new posts in the ground and attaching a chain from the post to secure the bins.


"Additionally, the paper towels will be removed today, leaving the hand dryers as the way to dry off hands in the restroom," Buck wrote.

It's a little thing but it goes to show that one lonely citizen speaking up can make a difference — if an agency is open to listening. The highway agency does a better job at that than most state agencies — even when the message isn't routed through Getting There.

The leadfooted lobbyist

In June 2009 this column chronicled the amazing driving career of Bruce C. Bereano, State House lobbyist turned anti-speed-camera crusader.

Bereano had ample motivation for his opposition, because he had amassed a hoard of at least 22 traffic tickets since 1996 — most of them for speeding. Even when he did pay a fine, he often caught breaks from judges.

A little more than a year later, neither sanctions nor leniency appear to have influenced Bereano's driving habits. So far this year, he's collected two speeding tickets and one for driving without a seat belt.

Court records show Bereano pleaded guilty June 11 to an April 3 speeding violation in which he was clocked at 70 in a 50-mph zone in Queen Anne's County. For some reason, a lenient judge convicted him of going only 59 mph — reducing his fine to $60.

Bereano was so chastened that he went almost a week without being cited for speeding again. This time he was charged with going 88 mph in a 65-mph zone of Interstate 97 in Anne Arundel County. Trial is set for Sept. 1.

The lobbyist recently added to his ticket trove by collecting one for driving without a seat belt in Somerset County. Funny thing, that was the day of the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield. It was the second year in a row Bereano has received a ticket after that annual event.

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