Hundreds of Linthicum residents want the Maryland Transit Administration to shutter the light rail station after an attack on a man near the facility, and they vow to turn out for a public hearing this month on a plan to trim its hours.
The MTA beefed up station security in response to a community outcry and has proposed closing the station at 8 p.m., three hours early. Residents say it has brought crime to their neighborhoods, and they are creating a nonprofit group to pursue closing it entirely.
But other residents depend on the light rail and say that cutting back hours or closing the station would be disastrous. They say that there's no proof that droves of people — including the teenagers accused in the February mugging — are getting on or off the light rail there to cause trouble.
About 550 people board the light rail there daily, according to the MTA. The station, which has no parking, caters to walk-up users. It is a transfer point for BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, and its location is secluded.
"My house has been broken into twice. My car was stolen. My neighbors have had their sheds broken into, tools stolen, bikes stolen," said Karen Weiss, who lives near the tracks.
The car thief, who was apprehended, had burglarized her home and taken the car key, and later returned on the light rail for her car, she said.
She said in her 12 years living there, she's seen drug deals nearby and people having sex at the station and by the stairs to it, as well as vandalism and trash. She attributes the problems to people from outside the community who use the station and congregate near it, and also blamed the ease of riding the train, often without paying — though officials say MTA has been cracking down on ticketless riders.
Weiss is one of the founders of Citizens Against the Linthicum Light Rail, or CALL, which is seeking nonprofit status so it can seek grants and contributions.
"We will pursue this into the court system. It really does come down to the quality of life in our neighborhood," she said, noting that MTA hasn't closed a station before.
Two Facebook pages have been created, and signs supporting a station shutdown have sprouted on lawns since a late February meeting with MTA and elected officials drew hundreds of people.
"I ordered 100 signs, and within two days they were gone. I'm on my third order," said Nick Cosentino, a teacher who is also a founder of CALL.
"I think if it's not going to be safe, it ought to be closed," said Del. Pamela G. Beidle, who represents the area.
MTA spokesman Terry Owens said the agency is responding to the issues and the perception that the station is not safe — little crime has been documented at the station itself — and is working with Anne Arundel County police. The MTA has installed 15 cameras and is adding a security kiosk and a blue-light emergency call box at the station. It has removed a bench where people were loitering near a Royal Farms store, and police presence in and around the station has expanded.
County Executive John R. Leopold said the county signed an agreementlast week with the MTA that provides for county police to respond first if the blue-light panic button is pushed. He said the county will assess the need for more lighting near the station.
Working with state Sen. James DeGrange and other officials, the MTA is proposing the earlier closing time. The station is included in a yearlong MTA examination of the light rail system, evaluating efficiency, cleanliness and station use.
People who rely on the Linthicum station and do not want its hours curbed say they intend to be heard, either in written or oral testimony.
Laura Lee Provonche said she would have to move or lose her job at a doctor's office if the operating hours are trimmed. She relies on walking a few blocks to the light rail to get to work, stores and Orioles games. She has no car, and other stations are too far away, she said.
"I am adamant about them keeping it open at the same hours," she said. "I have no way to get anywhere without the light rail."
The longtime resident said Linthicum experienced crime before the light rail appeared 20 years ago.
Others who would be affected by shorter hours or a station shutdown include flight attendants and pilots who rent homes by the station and use it to get to BWI; night students at colleges; and teens who take it to movies and stores in Hunt Valley.
Bob Abel, a federal retiree who lives nearby, said he has not noticed an increase in crime since light rail came in, and fears that the proposals to curb or end service are driven by emotion, not facts.
"I'm interested in getting the real statistics," he said.
The MTA's Owens said that in 15 months, the agency documented two crimes and graffiti at the station.
"We have a good police presence in the area," said Justin Mulcahy, Anne Arundel County police spokesman.
Online Anne Arundel police statistics for the area show a small uptick in incidents there between 2008 and 2010. While that is due partly to reports of disorderly conduct, thefts and other calls, there were also reductions in other categories, such as property destruction and checks on vehicles. How much of that is attributable to light rail riders is not known.
The lunchtime attack on a 59-year-old man walking to the library a few blocks from the station Feb. 12 sparked the latest outcry. Two teenagers were charged. MTA security videos do not show them riding the light rail to Linthicum, but show them running at the station as they are being chased by bystanders.
A 15-year-old from Halethorpe has admitted his involvement in Anne Arundel County juvenile court and was sent in April to a residential youth facility.
Dana Patrick West Jr., 19, of Halethorpe is jailed without bail on a six-count indictment that includes charges of felony assault and attempted robbery. According to court records, he was on a year's probation at the time of the mugging, having received probation before judgment in a Baltimore City theft case last year. He is also accused of violating that probation.
Hearing on light rail
Public hearing on proposal to shorten hours at Linthicum light rail station: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 17 at North County High School, 10 E. First Ave., Glen Burnie.
Written statements may be submitted to MTAHearingRecord@mta.maryland.gov or MTA Office of Customer Information, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore 21202