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For people with disabilities, bus travel equates to independence – to destinations like the grocery store, work, or the doctor’s office. But often, bus trips don’t work out as expected. Here’s helpful tips for everyday and leisure bus transit.
A comfortable seat on the bus
It’s a big, shiny multi-seated vessel of comfort and leisure, or, it’s a no-frills, multi-wheeled means to an end such as getting to and from destinations like the grocery store, work, or the doctor’s office.
There’s no way around it – national and local bus systems share a unique relationship with the disabled community. But too often, people that have physical or developmental disabilities see bus systems as an imperfect system they must contend with to lead an active life, instead of as a value-added factor that enhances their ability to be independent.
The reasons for this are as numerous as the bus systems themselves; national systems like Greyhound provide an environment that is conducive to having a pleasant, safe trip, as do charter buses that are hired to take individuals to specific locations.
Municipal systems – the ones that operate in large metropolitan cities and their suburbs – endure more challenges. Publicly-funded systems often must operate on a taxpayer provided shoestring budget. They have a large turnover rate among drivers, and sometimes, they have trouble keeping their equipment in working order.
People with disabilities have reported that lifts were non-operational, or that a driver could not secure a wheelchair in place for a ride, more than once. These situations can compromise a person’s ability to live their life independently, not to mention productively and safely.
With all of these circumstances in play, it’s no wonder that riders have a love-hate relationship with bus transit. But understanding the role of the bus systems – as well as their responsibilities to the public they serve – can help a person cultivate a better perspective on this important mode of transportation.
There are three types of bus systems, the municipal/community transit system, the national transit networks, and chartered or tour bus services.
The municipal/community transit system
The municipal system operates as surface transportation for individuals that do not, or cannot, drive a private vehicle. This is the system a person with a disability is likely the most familiar with.
Municipal systems run the gamut of state-of-the-art, high-speed buses to the somewhat outdated modes of transportation. But no matter the challenges these systems face, all are required to meet or exceed Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, requirements.
Those requirements are varied, and are meant to make short-term transit utilization easier for people with disabilities. The experience should be comparable to the experiences enjoyed by able-bodied passengers.
A bus system cannot refuse to serve any person due to a physical disability or impairment – at a bus stop, when they’re on a bus, or in a transfer/customer service center. This includes municipal systems, national systems, charter buses and tour buses.
Additionally, bus transit systems cannot charge additional service fees or higher rates because a passenger has a disability. However, drivers are not required to retrieve fares or a bus pass from a person’s pocket, wallet or handbag to process payment.
Personal care assistants are generally required to pay a fare to board the bus. Service animals must be allowed to board the bus, but they are typically not allowed to occupy a seat.
Bus drivers cannot require able-bodied passengers to yield conventional seating to passengers with disabilities, though most people are willing to give up a seat for someone in need.
Community transit services – those that are run by a city, village or township to aid elderly or disabled persons – generally need notice a day or so before a passenger travels. This allows the transit service to prepare for the passenger’s specific needs. Typically, a passenger is picked up at or near, his or her home. These services are generally well-regarded, and are often provided fare-free to riders as a community service.
Newer, technologically-advanced buses are equipped with public address systems that announce stops so people can anticipate their desired destination. If a bus does not have a public announcement system, the driver is required, per the ADA, to announce each stop. Outdated buses that are still in service also require that a string be pulled that triggers a bell, so a driver knows a person would like to disembark the bus, but if this is out of reach for a passenger, he or she should tell the driver the location of their stop when they board the bus.
National transit systems
On national transit systems, such as Greyhound Lines, Inc., that transport passengers outside of their locale, the same rules apply. But there are some clear advantages to this type of travel.
In most cases, a trip on a national bus service is a planned trip, and passengers have the opportunity to inform bus personnel, well in advance that they have a disability. Therefore, provisions that need to be made so a traveler can have an enjoyable trip can be made in advance, which eliminates hassles, or surprises, at the time of boarding.
At Greyhound, passengers can call the system’s Greyhound Customers with Disabilities Travel Assistance Line to learn more about how to travel by bus. Travelers are advised to notify the ticket agent if they are traveling with a mobility device so drivers can anticipate plan for needs to help make for an enjoyable trip.
Drivers and attendants will help a passenger store their mobility device if it’s needed, as well as their luggage. Greyhound has also committed to assisting any passenger – solo or with a companion – onto or off the bus upon request.
Chartered or tour bus transit
Chartered bus or tour bus transit are comprised of operators that transport passengers to specific locations, such as a casino; a popular tourist destination, such as an amusement park; or between venues, such as between local hotels and the airport. Often, the tour bus service is procured by a group of travelers, a club, or an organization for a specific purpose, such as a ski trip or bachelorette party.
These buses are often the best-suited for comfortable travel and service because they are paid for privately. However, they provide the same level of service to persons with disabilities as their counterparts and often exceed those amenity levels.
Generally, all bus transit systems have customer complaint centers, hotlines, or websites that customers can use if they believe a bus system has violated the ADA act, or provided poor service. Service will only improve if operators know what is wrong. They need to have an opportunity to address customer concerns.
A word about boarding
Persons with disabilities that use a wheelchair are likely to be familiar with the wheelchair lifts, ramps and restraints that are used to hold chairs in place on the bus.
The lifts make boarding the bus much easier for wheelchair users; they greatly enhance the ability to travel to appointments, plans for recreation, a job, or obligations that cannot be handled from home.
The ADA requires drivers to assist wheelchair users or others that require the use of the lift or a ramp. Sometimes, a driver may balk at operating the lift or ramp because they believe the passenger can board the bus conventionally. But lift users have the last say in this regard – if a passenger requests the use of one, it must be activated. If a driver refuses to do this, the passenger can report the driver to the bus system so the bus driver can be provided with ADA compliance training.
For reasons that are unclear, bus services also advise that wheelchair users board the lift backward as opposed to forward. But users are permitted to board the lift from a forward stance if they wish. And drivers should, as a matter of law, assist people in boarding and exiting. Most bus services have required drivers to undergo extensive training in terms of how to operate bus lifts and ramps, and how to assist passengers with disabilities.
In terms of ramps, the ADA has specified ramp slope ratios to ensure that passengers with disabilities are not forced to negotiate overly-steep ramps.
However, passengers should note that bus lifts do have varying chair-passenger weight limits. These weights typically fall within the 300-500 pound range. If a passenger has questions regarding weight limits, or any other matters, he or she should contact the bus provider’s customer service phone line or website.
Once a wheelchair is on a bus, it should be secured into place by a series of restraints that will hold the chair in place as the bus moves. This is vitally important – the restraints must be properly employed to ensure the chair does not dislodge and injure passengers. If a passenger cannot secure all of the restraints, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Most bus services also ask passengers that use a wheelchair to apply the brakes of their wheelchair while the bus is in transit. This makes the trip safer.
Passengers with disabilities have reported that drivers, and sometimes other passengers, have not treated them with respect as they go through the process of boarding a bus or restraining a chair. If a driver shows disrespect, let the bus transit system’s corporate office or customer complaint hotline know. However, if a fellow passenger has a bad attitude there aren’t any hard or fast guidelines on how the situation should be handled. Some situations can lead to hostile confrontations, while trying to ignore the situation may be safer.
Bus transits systems are a necessary part of mobility for people without access to private vehicles. Don’t be afraid to ask for respect and accommodation. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the law.
On the Go!
Transportation, for a person with a disability, is a major concern because when he or she can’t get from place to place, it tends to restrict him or her from participating in other life activities. Advances in technology have made private vehicle travel attainable, and even more preferable. More and more, individuals with a disability are able to modify their vehicles and obtain adaptive driver’s licensure to enhance independence. Whether traveling by air, by bus, on a train or in a wheelchair, travel must be safe and convenient for all.