Groups of boisterous young people who wreak havoc and intimidate others have forced LexTran to stop offering a free weekend ride program for children and adolescents, LexTran spokesman Dave Riggins said Tuesday.
Riggins said bands of youths, who appear to be middle school age and older, have been congregating at the LexTran transit center on Vine Street on Saturday afternoons and evenings, getting on buses to Fayette Mall, and causing trouble on the buses and at the mall. The problem was especially bad the past three weekends, he said.
On Saturday night, LexTran transported 400 to 500 youths to Fayette Mall, and in some instances the buses were met there by police officers who would not let certain people off the buses, Riggins said.
"There were reports of fights and brawls," he said. "It's my understanding there were at least two arrests."
Sgt. Ann Gutierrez of the Lexington police department, said Tuesday she could not readily determine whether any arrests were made involving unruly LexTran passengers arriving at or departing from the mall or juveniles acting boisterously inside the mall after riding LexTran to get there.
However, she said the police department had gotten several disorderly-conduct calls on Saturday evenings about incidents at or near Fayette Mall in recent months, some of which involved LexTran passengers.
On April 25, Lexington police got a call in which a LexTran driver apparently was asking for a police escort from the mall back to the transit center because of a disorderly passenger. On April 3, there was a call about a disorder at a LexTran bus shelter near the mall, Gutierrez said. There were also reports of disorders at the food court and Starbucks in the mall on recent Saturdays, she said.
In most cases, police officers have to witness misdemeanors, such as disorderly conduct, to make an arrest on the spot. Sometimes, such illegal behavior is not occurring by the time officers get to the scene, she said. In those cases, those who feel they are victims have to file a complaint.
"We've had paying passengers complaining about this certain element of young people," Riggins said. "We were contacted by the mall over the weekend that they were very concerned about the situation."
Myron Worley, general manager of Fayette Mall, said he didn't know of any brawls at the mall Saturday night, but he said there might have been some loud words at one point and a large group of people congregating so that others could not get around them.
"There was enough activity of people for us to wonder why this might be," he said.
Worley said he had been unaware of the free ride program for children offered by LexTran until Saturday night, then he called a LexTran supervisor. He said LexTran canceled the free ride program by the time he got a chance to talk to LexTran officials during regular office hours Monday morning.
LexTran Launch, which started in February and was to have continued through the end of the calendar year, allowed students in grades 1 through 12 to ride LexTran buses free on Saturdays and Sundays. The program was started to educate youths about mass transportation.
Now, because of conduct issues, riders ages 6 to 18 will have to pay regular youth fare — 80 cents — to ride the bus on weekends, according to LexTran officials. For riders 19 and older, the fare is $1.
It's a shame that something positive for the entire community has been hampered by "this certain element of young people," Riggins said. Because no identification was required to ride the buses, he said, "We're not sure who these people were."
Riggins said that LexTran tried to address the situation by placing supervisors on the buses and adding more buses to Fayette Mall on Saturday nights. But those remedies didn't work, he said.
"I don't know why they picked Fayette Mall," he said.
"We have had standing-room crowds on some of these buses that have been going to Fayette Mall. We finally became concerned that our passengers were becoming afraid — our regular paying passengers."
Riggins said that, with the weather becoming warmer, LexTran officials thought there was potential for the behavior problems to increase, so they decided to pull the plug on the program on Monday. However, he said LexTran officials might consider offering a free ride program for youths, a modified version of the one just canceled, in the future.
"It's an unfortunate situation," he said.