THANKS TO a deft express run by Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, a roaring dispute over bus service at a key location came to an end yesterday morning with the return of Metro and Ride-On to Wheaton Plaza. While Mr. Kramer is downplaying his role in ending what threatened to be a serious transportation flap, his intervention clearly brought some misguided mall managers back to their senses. In what is now being officially papered over as "merely a misunderstanding," plaza officials instituted a ban on buses at their mall, effective Aug. 15. Whatever they intended, their stop-action policy produced waves of protest.
Citizens' groups -- understandably concerned about hardships to older residents who like to frequent the mall as well as lower-income people who wish to shop there -- began collecting petitions calling for restoration of the bus stops. While the ban was in effect, would-be bus users -- about 5,000 arrivals and departures a day -- had to walk several hundred yards from bus stops on Veirs Mill Road or Reedie Drive. Before the ban, buses had been allowed to stop directly outside the Woodward & Lothrop store.
The reasoning offered by the mall management was that Metro's buses caused too much wear and tear on the plaza's private roads and that the Ride-On buses interfered with construction. But critics charged that the mall wanted to discourage low-income people from shopping or gathering on the property. On Wednesday, Mr. Kramer met with representatives of Wheaton Plaza and on Thursday announced that the ban was over and that under a new agreement the county will reimburse the mall for wear and tear on roads.
Fair enough. By providing for some face-saving among the decision-makers at the mall, Mr. Kramer has succeeded in preserving invaluable mobility for thousands of people who must rely on public transportation. It is more than good public policy. It is a sound business decision that every merchant in the mall should be relieved to accept.