Disability Perspective: MUNI Staff “Pimp” the Disabled About Double-Decker Buses

by Bob Planthold on December 19, 2007

Both the hum-drum and the astounding happened at the Monday, December 17th static testing of the double-decker bus by members of the senior and the disabled communities.

As expected, no indication that MTA’s media staff alerted the media to the special, one-hour static testing of the double-decker bus, though MTA’s media staff were present for this.

But, MTA staff were there both “pimping” the disabled to support the double-decker bus and making it difficult to fill out a special survey questionnaire.

One long-time member of the MUNI Access Advisory Committee publicly claimed a prior cell-phone conversation with a MUNI staffer to the effect of feeling the disabled were being told they ought to “go with the flow” of accepting the bus. While that may not be so easily verifiable, that same MTA staffer did say to various people — both disabled and able-bodied — inside the bus that the “party line is” that everybody pretty much likes it [the double-decker bus.]

We were being told and pressed to go along with unnamed others preferences and choices! We were told our judgment should be subordinated to others, that we lacked reliable and independent judgment about our own life experiences.

Objective survey process? Or pressure from above to isolate, quiet, and dissuade the disabled from responding fairly and honestly?

Why hasn’t MTA staff tried to persuade the alleged majority of people surveyed to think, just for a minute, about the needs and preferences of those who need and depend on transit?

This seems like another example of the tyranny of the majority.

Hearing what staff said made us feel that decision was already made, no matter what we pointed out.

That was reinforced by the difficulty in getting the special survey forms. They weren’t out in the open. Some people had them in their hands; others of us were on the bus for several minutes and weren’t offered a survey. We had to ask and then search before finding them in a backpack.

Selectivity in distributing the forms was the norm, for nearly half those actually responding. I personally had to find and then distribute the forms to some — such as a woman who provides In-Home-Support-Services care to some people with disabilities. It’s worth noting that she vocally and in writing said that her clients couldn’t safely use this bus, since they couldn’t get to the back half of the bus to get a seat, even if the bus were still sitting at the curb.

It’s also worth noting the bias, or even unprofessionality, of both the regular survey and the special survey for seniors and people with disabilities. The prefatory note page points out purported financial benefits of using double-decker busses; it fails, however, to mention any problems, even though they have been pointed out years ago and reiterated early enough in December to have worked their way into the minds, if open, of any who developed these two questionnaires.

One lengthy, multi-part question specifically focussed only on wheelchair-users, ignoring that many people using walkers also need the lift and also need a special space other than the amount of space a regular seat provides.

Then we were all asked to compare various factors of the double-decker bus with those of the regular or articulated busses. That ignored that we were testing an empty and stationary double-decker bus. It would be easy for many respondents to feel they were safer and had more room and less noise on such an empty and stationary bus.

That’s the quick analysis of the flaws and bias coming from MTA staff.

In summary, a testing and survey process that isolates the disabled and seniors, pressures them to “get with the program”, and hints at us to agree with the non-disabled who set the so-called “party line”.

Let’s go back to listing more actual safety hazards of the double-decker bus.

1] Only the front part of the bus kneels and has a ramp. The fixed seats for people with disabilities and seniors are in the rear half of the double-decker bus. Seldom do buses pull in fully parallel to and very close to the curb. Which means both seniors and people with disabilities who need the access equipment at the front of the bus have to travel halfway back and halfway forward!

Those most vulnerable and with the least amount of energy and balance have to travel farther and do much more work on a double-decker bus than on any regular or articulated bus. But that didn’t get into either questionnaire.

2] The one current stairway to the top deck is in the middle of the bus. That means the top deck able-bodied will find the closest exit from the bus is the one immediately in front of the fixed rear seats where — Guess who? –seniors and the disabled sit. There will be a conflicting cross-flow of able-bodied exiting the middle door while seniors and the disabled have to navigate through those faster-moving and stronger passengers to get to the front door. Yes, MTA claims there will be a 2nd stairway but doesn’t know where on the bus body it will be placed. Even with a 2nd stairway somewhere, the current mid-bus stairway will have the adverse safety implications already mentioned — unless MTA think it can institute some sort of mandatory one-way stairways.

3] The fixed rear seats, except for the very front row, require a step UP from a sloping / slanting aisle. Which means when the front row of fixed seats are full, a senior or person with a disability or person with a stroller has to navigate a narrow aisle and step up while also not standing flat and firm.

a] Think of the accident -injury possibilities if the slanting floor is slippery / sticky from mud tracked in, spilled beverages, or accumulated expectoration!

b] The aisle along those rear seats is too narrow to allow passage of a walker. So, when both wheelchair securement areas are occupied–by people legitimately there or by oblivious tourists with their luggage, as often happens on BART — anyone using a walker has to hope or pressure someone in the corner seats of the front row of fixed seats to get up and go to the rear.

All that takes time, time which the MTA route schedules do not allow.

So, the fix is in, regarding the so-called voice of the people.

From an injury-prevention and litigation liability view, has there been any calculation by the City Attorney as to how much might SF have to pay for more injuries to more vulnerable people than currently?

In order to pay for those higher claims, has there been any calculation as to what is the total amount of all the salaries of all those who dreamed up and then worked on this double=decker scheme?

How much are we paying for people who can’t see hazards and can’t develop an unbiased questionnaire?

Will SF dock their salaries and partly bill them for claims paid out due to the negligence and bias they showed in this testing of the double-decker bus?

Or, will the disabled literally be relegated to the back of the bus –and to the back of the thinking of those wanting to curry favor with higher-ups?

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