With both southern spurs of the Baltimore Light Rail into northern Anne Arundel County shut down for two weeks for flooding repairs, a group of residents and politicians is pushing to close stations or limit some of the service permanently, citing crime concerns.
Service is suspended from the Patapsco station to the Cromwell and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport stations until Aug. 5, due to flood erosion of track foundation, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. The repairs are “highly dependent on weather conditions,” the agency said.
Despite police data to the contrary, County Executive Steve Schuh and both candidates for the District 32 state senate seat say light rail crime is a problem and they want the MTA to reduce service in the county.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback about the problems the light rail is causing,” Schuh spokesman Owen McEvoy said. “There has not been a crime wave, but we’ve been hearing more loudly from the community.”
Anne Arundel County Police began patrolling the county’s section of the system in addition to MTA Police in April to address residents concerns; county officers have boarded more than 1,000 trains, issued 14 fare violations and made only three arrests, according to a police spokesman.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn dated last Wednesday, Schuh requested trains no longer stop at the Ferndale and Linthicum stations, and serve North Linthicum and the Cromwell Station/Dorsey Road terminus only during peak hours.
Ferndale has an average of 97 boardings per day; Linthicum has 462; North Linthicum has 604; and Cromwell has 1,124 — 8 percent more than the BWI Marshall Airport station, according to MTA data. Among the other north county stops, BWI Business Park has 213 per day, and Nursery Road has 446.
Schuh said the request expanded the scope of a Nov.15, 2017 letter, in which he asked for service to be limited or discontinued at the Linthicum station, known as the “kiss and ride.”
“Based on feedback from community leaders and Councilman John Grasso, it is clear that the other three North Anne Arundel County stations are just as problematic as the kiss and ride in Linthicum,” he wrote.
The Maryland Department of Transportation has received the letter and is reviewing the request, spokeswoman Erin Henson said. An MTA spokeswoman declined to comment further.
The issue threatens to loom over the state senate race, between Grasso, a Glen Ridge Republican, and Del. Pamela Biedle, a Linthicum Democrat. Both say the perception is based in reality.
While crime may not have increased, residents blame the existing crime around the stations on Light Rail passengers — “drug addicts, crooks, thieves,” Grasso said, who “go out there, rob the people, hop on the train back to Baltimore City.”
He wants service eliminated at all stops in the area.
“People have had enough of the light rail in general,” Grasso said. “They don’t want it there, they never wanted it there to begin with.”
Beidle said she has seen drug use and outdoor sex on the trail by the Linthicum station, which children pass on their way to Lindale Elementary.
The homeless get off the train and approach people using the ATM at a nearby Royal Farm to panhandle, she said.
“I’m for mass transit, but I want to protect my community,” Beidle said. “People need to feel safe. I’m not sure that they do — I know they don’t.”
Two separate rallies in support of the effort to reduce service are scheduled for this weekend: from 8 a.m. to noon at the Cromwell station, and 10 a.m. at the kiss and ride in Linthicum.
Sandra German, 58, a retired security escort, planned the Cromwell one after seeing crime spread at the shopping center near her home in Fern Glen Manor.
She said she has been victimized, too: a rider snatched her phone one afternoon in January when she was riding a light rail train headed north into the Cherry Hill station. German got off to get a description and see which way he was running, and the train left her on the platform.
“There was no phone booth, no way to call for help,” she said.
Crime concerns were cited in the decision not to extend the light rail to Annapolis as originally planned, said Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition.
A neighborhood group, citing the same concerns, succeeded in killing a stop in Ruxton-Riderwood in Baltimore.
Jordan cautioned against painting all light rail riders with a broad brush, viewing predominantly black riders from Baltimore with a “presumption of criminality.”
He criticized the politicians seeking to cut light rail service.
“They are leaving a lot to be desired as representatives of the public interest,” Jordan said. “I’m surprised these candidates would use this overly used trope to advance their political careers.”
State and county officials should work on crime problems without removing a vital transit link for hundreds of families, he said.
“If those areas are experiencing crime and drug use, let them address those issues with the tools of crime control and public health services,” Jordan said.
Brian O’Malley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, says perception of crime is clearly an issue. He said that it brings up a question of why there’s a difference between perception and police crime statistics.
But many in the region suffer from lack of access to jobs, he said — a main factor in the poverty that drives it.
“Are we prescribing the right cure?” he said.