Letters for the week of May 5-11, 2004

Readers take issue with AC Transit's driver discipline, the callous attitude of riders, and the design of its new buses.

“Waiting for the Bus,” Feature, 4/7

The problem is the process
I am an able-bodied user of public transportation who has encountered problem drivers and attempted to have some action taken about them, totally without any success, in more than three years of living in the East Bay. Being a reasonably civic-minded person as well as able-bodied, I have occasionally attempted to act on behalf of disabled persons or others who appear unable to act on their own behalf, especially in such obvious cases as their being passed up where the bus is gone before they could possibly write down the coach number, let alone the driver’s number. I have had absolutely no results with these attempts, either.

By way of background, I used to live in San Francisco, and MUNI has some problem drivers too. The difference is that it is possible for a rider to get some action taken about problem SF MUNI drivers; this is not possible with problem AC drivers, as I finally came to realize.

I believe the root of the problem is what you wrote on page 26, “No amount of organizational improvement is likely to mean a thing until AC Transit’s disciplinary policy is perceived as having some teeth. Currently, there is no public evidence that drivers have anything to lose even if they completely ignore or mistreat disabled riders.”

Or able-bodied riders, either.

In San Francisco, at least when I lived there, complaints do get results. They get a written response, first of all, and you can demand a hearing. If the driver is counseled, a written counseling letter is placed in his file. There is a strong drivers’ union there too, by the way, which I support.

The difference is clearly observable. There, if a driver is aware that you are writing down his number, they really don’t want you to; here, they are completely indifferent.
Eve Stone, Oakland

Riders also deserve blame
I greatly appreciate and agree with Katy St. Clair’s article regarding the difficulties of being disabled and having to take a public bus. My sixteen-year-old son is not only in a wheelchair but is severely learning disabled as well, and he has been insulted, mocked, and glared at by many bus drivers, even though I am always with him and more than aware of their behavior.

However, to come down only on the bus drivers wouldn’t be right — I continue to be stunned and appalled at how passengers treat my son. People will not give up their seats for his chair, and, yes, passengers have mocked his learning disability as well. I am stunned just how many grown people will complain that my son is “slowing the bus down” and that they “shouldn’t have to get up and move so some retard can load.”

Yes, the drivers have been exactly as Ms. St. Clair’s article reports, but there have been good drivers, and compassionate drivers, too. I am sorry to say that I have yet to see much compassion in the riders, and my understanding toward them is at an end. I do have one last thought for any of the guilty parties: I’m sure, given the chance, my son would be happy to trade places with you.
Rhonda C. Poynter, Alameda

So do the buses
While the article gave me some increased sympathy for AC Transit drivers, I still remain appalled by the times I have witnessed drivers who bypassed or were verbally abusive to passengers with disabilities and their companions. I’ve also heard vitriol extended to individuals not covered by legal mandates but who still have distinctive needs, particularly parents with strollers or individuals with large numbers of grocery bags who may not be able to afford a car or taxi to transport their purchases home.

The primary criticism I have about the article is that it did not sufficiently fault the bus designs. When the low-floor green buses were first used on the 72/73 line, I was heartened by their potential; at least their ramps could be lowered quickly and wheelchair riders could enter and exit almost as fast as ambulatory passengers. Then, nearly a year ago, the new buses used for the 72R line were introduced, representing a major retrogression. To accommodate wheelchair riders, the driver needs to leave her seat, release a ramp on a back door, remove bungee cords from a drawer, strap down the chair, retract the ramp, and return to her seat. I’ve seen this cause nearly as much of a delay as the older-style lift. In addition, seats requiring passengers to negotiate a high step up are located at the front, so that individuals who would have trouble walking to a seat toward the back are still required to make a difficult ascent just to sit near the door. I’ve talked with blind friends who were also inconvenienced by this unexpected step.

Rumor has it that AC might have to sell these new buses to compensate for its budget deficit. Let’s hope that if this happens there are more low-floor buses waiting to be dusted off and returned to service.
Jane Vincent, Berkeley

But don’t forget cars
There was one major omission in your article that is undoubtedly the crux of the problem: In a country where the societal norm is to travel by private automobile, Congress exempted the automobile industry from the Americans with Disabilities Act, and made people who cannot afford to own a car pay for the disabled’s transportation instead.

We live in a society where driving is the norm. It has separate and unequal laws to give preferential treatment to automobile drivers. It even has separate and unequal courts — traffic courts. Services, even the most basic such as the police, who are taken for granted by automobile drivers, are only grudgingly granted to people who are not driving cars.

A glaring example was in the area near Sunset View Cemetery. Several years ago, when there was a landslide at St. Jerome’s School, the police and public services were out there clearing off the street. They dumped what they removed onto the sidewalk and left it there for weeks, until I finally wrote to the police and asked them to cite whoever was responsible for that mess. The police refused to do so, although they did refer my letter to someone, probably the person who blocked the sidewalk in the first place, and it was cleaned off. But I should not have had to make the complaint in the first place.
Bruce De Benedictis, Oakland

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