The controversy over the banning of buses in Wheaton Plaza is a good example of the need for public supervision over the policies of private corporations within a community.

In this instance, the desire of private real estate developers to keep buses out of a major shopping center in Montgomery County would have effectively shut out a large segment of the community from the use of that center. If County Executive Sidney Kramer had not announced that bus service to the mall will be resumed, the elderly, the handicapped and the poor -- all of whom are heavily dependent on bus transportation -- might have suffered.

When Montgomery County agreed to the development of Wheaton Plaza, it granted special privileges to the developers, based on their promise to serve the needs of county residents. Two public agencies -- the state unemployment office and the Social Security Administration -- leased space and now pay rent to the developers on the basis of that promise. A private restaurant has established itself as a lunchtime meeting place for seniors, meeting important nutritional and social needs of the area's elderly. The bus ban would have meant limited access to these sites for thousands of county residents, and a breach of promise on the part of the developers.

A good example of what such a place can offer is the Seven Corners Shopping Mall in Fairfax County. It is far smaller than Wheaton Plaza, has long been a transfer point for Metro buses from Washington and the surrounding region, and all buses pull right up to the covered entrance to the mall. The elderly and disabled are not required to maneuver down slippery slopes or across multi-lane highways in order to shop, meet friends or conduct necessary business.


Executive Director, National Council of Senior Citizens