Letters for the week of April 28-May 4, 2004 

Kudos for our account of the problems with disabled access on AC Transit bus lines, but also the driver's perspective.

"Waiting for the Bus," Feature, 4/7

No accountability
Thank you for your hard-hitting piece. I am a nonhandicapped user of AC Transit, and also have many frustrations with AC Transit. I find that buses routinely leave their destinations ahead of time, which has caused me long trip delays, especially with their now-reduced schedule. What's worse is when the bus that just pulled away three minutes ahead of schedule is the last one of the day, which has happened to me on a few occasions. I have also found that drivers aren't always aware of where their stops are. I have had buses pass me right by, even as I was standing in the street screaming and waving in front of a sign that is clearly marked with that bus' route number.

The worst part is that, as detailed in your article, there seems to be no accountability. AC Transit takes customer complaints, but despite my repeated calls, as well as letters to management and boardmembers, I have noticed little improvement on the lines that I ride on. Your piece illuminated how this culture of irresponsibility is compounded for the mobility-impaired. It seems as if both drivers and management have forgotten whom they were hired to serve.
Rory Cox, Oakland

Disabled and nondisabled passengers don't mix
The intractable problems described by Katy St. Clair are caused by the insistence of advocates for the disabled that local transit agencies equip all regular buses with wheelchair lifts in addition to providing Paratransit. It isn't cost-effective to do both, yet once the buses are equipped it becomes cheaper to shunt riders onto buses even though superior Paratransit would be cheaper to provide.

But moving disabled riders onto regular buses will wreak havoc with schedules, further degrading the already abysmal reliability and quality of bus service for everyone else. I used to ride AC Transit all the time, and it simply isn't practical to have a system where most passengers get on and off the bus in ten seconds but some passengers take five minutes to get on and three minutes to get off. This is true not just because individual buses are slowed down, but also because the uneven flow of disabled riders produces huge gaps in service as buses that are held up fall further and further behind.

To be fair, it isn't practical either to let UC Berkeley students ride free so that they now routinely clog the buses around the campus to take a five-minute ride to avoid a fifteen-minute walk. These misguided transit policies only serve to discourage ridership and erode fare box revenue, loading more of the cost onto hapless local taxpayers. Certainly, they are the main reason I don't ride anymore.
Robert Denham, Berkeley

Drivers are people too
I was horrified, to put it mildly, at the hit piece you did on AC Transit and its treatment of our disabled passengers.

While all drivers are bound by the edicts of the ADA, as well as AC Transit policy, our primary duty is to negotiate a forty-plus-foot vehicle through heavy traffic, keeping a watch out for bicycles who don't believe the traffic laws apply to them, and fellow motorists and pedestrians who think we can stop on a dime; and give our passengers a safe, speedy, and comfortable ride to their destinations.

Let me address a few of the points raised:

Pass-ups: When a driver is operating a bus, we have to constantly be looking out for hazards. In heavy traffic, your eyes never rest. Occasionally we can, and do, miss seeing a passenger. But many times it is the passenger's fault they are passed up. When a bus operator comes to a bus stop that serves multiple routes (think University or Shattuck avenues) and no one gives the operator a sign that it is your bus they want to board, we pass them up. Then they call AC Transit and blame the driver.

Broken wheelchair lifts: You are correct that each driver is to check the operation of his/her lift before leaving the yard. However, lifts do fail en route, and that is not the fault of the driver. But passengers will still call in and blame the driver without knowing the full story.

Inadequate securement: The securements on AC Transit buses are generic and will simply not fit all the various designs of wheelchairs now in use, particularly the scooters and power chairs that are becoming so popular. We do, however, secure the passenger as best we can.

Calling out stops: We do the best we can to call out all the required stops, as well as when a passenger has a special request; however, our primary responsibility is safety. When driving in heavy traffic, looking for intending passengers, occasionally we do forget to call out certain stops. But once again, the passenger has certain responsibilities too. Few passengers are completely in the dark as to where they are going; they can easily remind the driver. If the passenger in your story saw they were getting close to their destination, they could have mentioned it. Instead, they let the driver pass it, then complained to management.

Full buses: During rush hours, many of our lines are standing loads. If a driver comes to a stop with a passenger in a wheelchair, and there is simply no room and no one on board will make room, what is the driver supposed to do? Order several people off the bus so the disabled passenger can board? And if they say no, what then? Call a sheriff and wait and have a minor riot on your hands?


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