There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RT's blind customer service (continued)

And then you witness something and you realize how good you have it, and you feel embarrassed to have even mentioned the trifling inconveniences of block bus schedules and the lack of late-hour service. That's how I feel tonight.

Back in November, I wrote about an incident where a light rail operator forced the train doors closed while one blind Sacramento State student waited for another to make his way to the train. The two blind students, a young woman and a young man, were left at the station by the train operator.

Then on Feb. 2, a woman named Kate stopped by and added a comment to my post:

Hey, its really funny that i happened to find out about this posting because we are positive this was us. The 82 line always seems to be late, I've almost gotten used to having to run for light rail which i was supposed to have 10 minutes to wait for.

They want more people to take RT rather then drive but they make it inconvenient. Why ride a bus that will probably be late, because they are SO often, which could cause you to miss a connection and be late, when you can just drive. As a blind person since birth RT has always, unfortunately, been apart of my life.

Also so many of the drivers don't have a clue where they are going. I tell the driver where I am going since i can't see the stop and so many times they have no idea, some straight say they don't know and others seem to just kind of pick a stop and tell me I'm at my stop, that is the most annoying and frustrating. Complaining to RT does nothing,they don't ever seem to care about their riders. Ok I'm done on my RT rant.
As I explained to her in my follow-up comment, I'm pretty sure the guy she was with that night rides my No. 82 bus home from Sac State in the evenings. He boarded the bus tonight at Sac State and told the driver where he wanted to go. He then took the seat behind the driver.

The bus left the campus. This was one of the older buses. It doesn't have an automated voice that announces each stop like the newer buses. The bus rattled and bumped along Fair Oaks and turned onto Howe. The driver didn't bother with announcing the stops. He turned east on Northrop. A couple of people got off at Northrop and Howe. The bus then made its way down Northrop until a rider pulled the stop request cord.

The driver pulled the bus to the curb and opened the door.

The blind guy stood up and faced the driver and asked, "Is this the Carro stop?"

The passenger who had requested the stop walked past the blind guy and exited. I didn't hear anyone answer the blind guy's question. I didn't know what stop we were at.

"Is this the Carro stop?" the blind guy asked again, a note of urgency creeping into his voice.

The driver said something, but I didn't hear what he said. A passenger next to the blind guy explained that this was the Northrop and Fulton stop, and the Carro stop was one stop back.

At this point the driver bounded out of his chair, grabbed the blind guy's arm and ushered him off the bus. The driver then walked the blind guy back to the Carro stop. It took a few minutes for them to make it to Carro and for the driver to return. Fortunately, it's only about a tenth of a mile between the stops. I heard just one person on the bus grumble about the delay. The rest of us, me in particular, were silently grateful that the driver helped the blind guy and didn't just let him off the bus to make his own way back.

I like this driver. He's friendly and cheerful. He's one of the drivers who leaves his bus open while he's on his break, allowing riders to stay warm while they wait. When he finishes his break, he counts heads and checks that everyone has a pass and off we go. And as I've said before, that's a piece of courtesy I wish every bus driver offered, even if it is against RT policy.

But when one of these old buses creeks and groans down the street there's no way to know which stop is coming, especially if you are blind. This was a dramatic demonstration of why drivers are asked to announce each stop on these older buses. Certainly when the driver knows he has a blind passenger, he has a special obligation to announce the stops.

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