Two Baltimore councilmen unloaded Thursday on a push by two county legislators to reduce late-night weekend bus service near White Marsh Mall over concerns about “large crowds of youth.”
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said in an interview that he hopes the Maryland Transit Administration denies a request from Baltimore County Council members Cathy Bevins and David Marks, who have asked that bus service in the area end hours earlier on Friday and Saturday nights.
Young said he was disappointed to see the county council members justify their request by pointing to a fight at the mall Saturday night, in which two 19-year-old men from Baltimore and seven juveniles were arrested. Reducing the hours that buses serve the area is “like racism,” Young said, and the request itself “sparks racism.”
“What about the county kids who come down to Fells Point and the Inner Harbor and wreak havoc?” Young said. “If it was county kids fighting, I doubt they would have made any remarks.”
City Councilman Brandon Scott, who represents a Northeast district close to the mall, said the proposed change is “an extreme overreaction to an incident.”
“Every Sunday, starting in September, there’s drunk folks who are fighting, grown folks who are fighting at Ravens games, who have to be taken out of the stands,” he said. “The city doesn’t say we’re going to cut light rail service to the stadium because people are fighting.”
Scott said “there’s no doubt in my mind” that some people in support of the proposed cut are motivated by racist fears of young, black men from the city committing crimes in the county.
“People have to get over this belief that there’s these big bad kids from the city that are causing these problems,” Scott said.
In response to the criticism, Bevins said she is focused on making sure her constituents are safe and noted that she did not know where the suspects were from or what race they were when she began pushing for measures after the fight.
“This doesn’t have to do with where the kids came from [or] the color of their skin; it has to do with unsupervised juveniles in a business,” she said.
“This was a bad situation, people were afraid and a police officer was assaulted,” Bevins added, referring to an off-duty Baltimore County police officer working for the mall. Police said one of the arrested 19-year-old men swung at the off-duty officer. The police ultimately used pepper spray to disperse a large crowd that they said had surrounded the officers.
“This is my issue, this is my district, and I have to respond to my constituency,” Bevins said. “I don’t really need Baltimore City judging us on just trying to find a solution.”
The MTA is reviewing a request from Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, and Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, who on Wednesday asked the agency to increase the number of buses picking up people from the mall area on Friday and Saturday evenings and to cease the service by 11 p.m. instead of 1:30 a.m.
Bevins and Marks wrote that “large crowds of youth in the evening on weekends” have “become a safety concern.”
“The youth have been disruptive, hard to control and they pose a safety risk to themselves crossing the road,” they wrote.
Scott said his biggest worry is that it will be harder for city residents who work at or near the White Marsh Mall to get to and from work late at night.
Bevins acknowledged that it might be more difficult, under the proposed changes, for patrons or employees of bars at The Avenue at White Marsh, which is across Honeygo Boulevard from the mall, to get home. She said she is committed to finding a solution that takes into account seasonal hours and ensures that employees of the mall and The Avenue have reliable methods of transportation.
The request by Bevins and Marks drew criticism from a former mall employee and the president of the bus drivers’ union.
Erin Bowers of Dundalk, who used to work at Bath and Body Works at White Marsh Mall, said employees regularly worked until after midnight during the holiday season.
“I’m concerned that people aren’t going to have a way to get home and it’s going to impact working people that need public transit,” said Bowers, now a case manager at the Ordnance Road Correctional Center in Glen Burnie. “A lot of these stores, if you can’t work those late-night hours, if you can’t close, they can’t give you those jobs.”
David McClure, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300, said he thinks the proposal is “absurd.” He said that while bus drivers regularly face rude, rowdy and sometimes violent passengers, the mall area is no more dangerous than other stops.
Disputes over transit services that connect cities and suburbs are not unusual, said Andrew Farkas, a Morgan State University professor and director of the university’s Urban Mobility and Equity Center.
“Generally, the concern is that in suburbs, if you provide transit service from the city, that will impact crime, although there is no good data on that,” Farkas said.
He said the MTA has done a poor job of providing city employees access to suburban job opportunities. Proposals like the one in White Marsh would make it even more difficult, he said.
A spokeswoman for GGP, which owns the mall, said the company supports ending bus service to the area at 11. Marty Lastner, senior general manager, said the company “escalated security efforts” after the fight, and that while the mall is not implementing a parental supervision policy at this time, “it remains an option.”
Lisa Geiger, a spokeswoman for Federal Realty, which owns The Avenue, said the company is conferring with its stores about the proposal. She said she is grateful to have Bevins, Marks and others working to support the business community.
“Our team is in communication with the MTA with regard to increasing the frequency of pickups during our busy seasons,” Geiger said.
“As for the runs after 11 p.m., we are working to gain a better understanding of this need,” she continued. “Most businesses are closed. However, we see the service as something that may be of value to some late-night employees at The Avenue. For this reason, we are reaching out to our business owners/managers for their feedback.”
Marks did not respond to a request for comment, but previously said he hopes various communities’ concerns are taken into account and that his “primary concern right now is public safety.” County Executive Don Mohler is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
Bevins and Marks met Monday with police and officials from the White Marsh Mall and The Avenue. They urged White Marsh Mall to institute a parental escort policy on weekend evenings similar to the one at Towson Town Center, which is also owned by GGP.
Towson Town Center requires patrons under 18 to have a parent or a supervising adult who is at least 21 with them after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Avenue requires people under 17 to have a parent or guardian who is at least 21 with them after 9 p.m.
Scott said he frequently patronized malls with friends as a teenager and always felt like they were safe places to be.
“All of us adults would want to have children in a safe place where we know where they are and where we know police are going to be anyway,” he said.
Young and Scott both said the proposal will likely have a negative effect on the bottom line of stores in the mall.
“I shop at White Marsh Mall,” Young said. “What if everyone in the city said, ‘I’m not going there anymore — I’m taking my business to Howard County’? The mall will die.”