Gray: Metro hasn’t justified cuts to night bus service


City leaders and Ward 8 residents have questioned Metro’s plan for the W6 and W8 routes, saying more police intervention is needed to address the problem before resorting to service cuts in an area highly dependent on public transit. (Daniel C. Britt/The Washington Post)
November 14, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Wednesday that Metro hasn’t justified its plans to discontinue night bus service in parts of Southeast Washington where the transit agency says teenagers are throwing rocks at buses.

Gray, responding to reporters’ questions about Metro’s proposal, said the city has not been provided with evidence supporting Metro’s assertion that buses are targeted two or three times in a given week.

Even if attacks are happening with such frequency, cutting service in parts of the city’s poorest ward is not the solution, the mayor said.

“The people who live in these neighborhoods use these conveyances to get to work, to get to other parts of the city,” Gray said in a news briefing. “Based on the data that we have seen thus far, it just doesn’t seem to be the kind of case it’s being made to curtail the service.”

City leaders and Ward 8 residents have questioned Metro’s plan for the W6 and W8 routes, saying more police intervention is needed to address the problem before resorting to service cuts in an area highly dependent on public transit.

Two bus routes in Anacostia have been targeted by youths throwing rocks and bricks. Metro wants to cut service after 8 p.m. in two areas off Stanton Road.

But so far, neither Metro Transit Police nor D.C. police appear ready to mount the sort of law enforcement effort that might root out those who are said to be targeting the buses.

Metro’s board will meet Thursday for the first time since news organizations reported the proposed service cuts, and some of the transit agency’s directors have said in recent days that they are going to give careful consideration to the proposal.

“Metro has responsibility, and the city has responsibility,” said D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the city’s representative on Metro’s board of directors. “We need to know why it’s not safe and make it safe.”

Mort Downey, who chairs the board’s safety and security committee, said the Metro and D.C. police need to work together to address the problem.“It is costing us a lot of money. It is putting our employees at risk. It is putting our customers at risk,” Downey said. “It is behavior that we just can’t tolerate.”

Rock attacks have been a citywide problem for years, Metro and District officials said. Metro says the W6 and W8 routes, which begin at the Anacostia Metro station, are frequently targeted with rocks, bricks and debris.

The incidents cause costly damage to buses and endanger drivers and passengers, Metro says. The attacks were cited by the transit authority as its reason to discontinue service after 8 p.m. in two residential pockets that are served by those routes.

D.C. police officials have said the bus incidents are the responsibility of Metro Transit Police, although they say city police can assist in investigations.

But with a police force of 450 officers, and only two dozen assigned to Metrobus, the transit force has not been well-positioned to tackle the problem. (The agency has previously announced plans to add 32 officers to its Metrobus unit.)

Metro Transit Police have not made any arrests in the past two years in the rock-throwing incidents, have not been able to curtail the vandalism and see no other option but to support cuts to bus service, Deputy Chief Jeff Delinski said.

Gray said the city’s police department needs to take a central role in the investigation. “We are going to involve the MPD more if that is what is going to take to get a solution,” the mayor said.

But Metro, D.C. police and the Gray administration do not agree on the extent of the problem.

Cmdr. Robin Hoey, who heads the 7th District in Southeast, said he is aware of five incidents of objects striking buses along the W6 and W8 routes this year. Paul Quander, the deputy mayor for public safety, said the city is aware of four such incidents throughout Southeast Washington. And Metro says that the W6 and W8 routes are targeted multiple times a week, sometimes every day, although the agency has not provided data to substantiate that.

“There was no pattern, there was nothing that points to a particular neighborhood,” Quander said. He said police data show that rock-throwing incidents are more common elsewhere, such as the U Street corridor.

Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said he could not provide data because transit police do not have a “rock-throwing” category. Reports are filed under different crimes, including vandalism and assault, he said.

Some Metrobus drivers say the transit agency isn’t overstating the problem. Drivers said they fear for their safety and welcome Metro’s plan to keep them offof what they describe as some of the city’s most dangerous side streets.

“There is no exaggeration to the vandalism, and it is not just in the Southeast area. It is throughout the city,” said William H. Nowlin Jr., a bus driver and union representative in Southeast. “In the Southeast area, it seems to be more prevalent. We deal with something every night over here, so there’s never a dull moment here.”

The proposed service reductions to the W6 and W8 routes are among the agency’s proposed Metrobus service changes for next year. The plan, which goes before the board for approval next month, calls for discontinuing bus service after 8 p.m. on some side streets on the W6 and W8 routes.

The bus stops that would be affected are off Stanton Road, at Jasper Road, Robinson Place, Bruce Place and Elvans Road.

“This will pose a very, very serious safety issue,” said Ernest Lyles, senior pastor at Brighter Day Ministries, on 12th Place SE. “The distance from Stanton Road for some people may not appear to be long, but it can be very, very unsafe for someone to walk from there at night by themselves.”

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said that by cutting service the authorities would be capitulating to criminals. “It seems to me that you let the ones that are inflicting harm on the citizens win by saying that you want to cut service,” he said. “That is a cop-out.”

Metro’s head of bus services, Jack Requa, said affected stops have low ridership, especially after 8 p.m. Overall, the W6 and W8 routes have seen a decrease in ridership to about 2,170 weekday riders from nearly 3,000 in fiscal 2009, Metro statistics show.

Metro is holding public hearings this month to give residents an opportunity to give input on the proposed changes.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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