The operators of a vital bus route through western Anne Arundel County are considering shutting it down after a string of thefts and fights, including one in which a driver was beaten.
Last month, on the K Route of the Connect-a-Ride service, a passenger threw a drink at the driver, and riders stole transfer tickets and started fights, all while other passengers were on the bus between Arundel Mills mall and Meade Village or just after getting off at Meade Village.
"Operational safety is the No. 1 priority," said Ray Ambrose, transit administrator for Corridor Transportation Corp., which manages the bus service. "We can't keep drivers working in areas where their safety is being threatened."
First Transit, which operates the bus lines under a contract with Corridor, has started putting extra personnel on the bus line at night. It is also considering installing security cameras and hiring a security firm, and it is looking to county police for extra support.
Sgt. John Gilmer, a county police spokesman, said officers are going to step up patrols at the bus stops. He stressed that drivers must report incidents immediately so that police can catch the culprits and help the drivers. Several of the incidents were reported too late to allow the police to be effective, he said.
The K Route, which runs through Stillmeadow, Meade Village, Pioneer City and Seven Oaks and goes to Arundel Mills, carries 300 to 400 people each day, said Mark Chang, a community services liaison for the county executive's office.
Many people in the area don't have cars and rely solely on the bus for transportation, particularly to the mall, where they work, said Glenda Gathers, a longtime community activist in Stillmeadow.
"If the bus route was taken away, a lot of people would not be able to get to the doctor's," she said. "Going shopping would be a problem, going to a job. ... A lot of people would be put out of where they're living at."
Ambrose said his company knows the importance of the bus service. "It's heavily used, and if we have to move it out of the neighborhoods, it will present a hardship," he said.
But more incidents could make it difficult to continue. The most serious event occurred May 10, when a bus driver in his early 60s was punched by a group of teenagers as they were getting off the bus about midnight, Corridor officials said. He has since been taken off of that route.
"He was very frightened," said Tom Driscoll, general manager of First Transit. "He had some bruises."
The problems on the bus line are not new. First Transit took over operation of the bus service in July, inheriting problems with unruly and disruptive customers.
Not everyone on the route would be sad to see the bus service go.
"There was a lot of criticism when it first started," said Holly Groves, community manager of Seven Oaks. "I know some of our homeowners were very much against the bus coming through the community."
On June 3, police and county representatives met with community members to hear suggestions on how to improve safety on the buses.
Gathers suggested hiring young men from the community to ride the buses and deter their peers from causing trouble.
"They would not allow certain incidents to happen on their watch," she said. "There would be better security."
The bus companies and affected residents are waiting for a permanent solution. First Transit is waiting on the county to see what support it can provide, and it is proposing the security steps to CTC to determine what the company can fund.
"We don't want to create limitations" for riders, Ambrose said.