A pandemic backfire: Disabled passengers complain of mistreatment on Metro Ride
The Big Read: A Wausonian feature
Back in March 2020, when the state of Wisconsin closed down due to the pandemic, much was thought about what to do about buses. How would you keep people moving around who relied on the service, while keeping drivers and passengers safe? So Metro Ride officials and the mayor (Mielke, back then) made bus fare free, and limited capacity on each vehicle.
Most of those were benign and understandable, but one measure in particular backfired. As a precaution in the early days, Metro Ride required passengers to load onto the bus from the back. Only disabled passengers could enter the front doors as normal, often making use of some of the assist features of the bus’s front door (which the back door doesn’t have).
That policy was still in place until Wednesday, when the city’s transit commission reversed the policy.
Why? The problem is, a bus driver can’t always tell when a passenger is disabled. That’s led to some problems. Bus drivers must line the bus up with the passenger as they pull up, so they must quickly determine whether the passenger is disabled so they can align the front or back door to that passenger. Aligning with the back door when it should have been aligned with the front door means a disabled person will have to make extra effort to reach the bus door, if they’re even able to. It’s kind of the opposite of Adults with Disability Association guidelines.
What’s more, some disabled passengers are making claims about mistreatment by bus drivers when they try to enter the front door. One of those is county board supervisor Donna Krause. I’ve requested rider complaints for the past six months for Metro Ride.
Krause is in a group of several Metro Ride passengers who formed a Facebook group looking for reform of the Metro Ride system. They claim abuse from Metro Ride bus drivers. One member of the group started a petition asking for the resignation of one particular bus driver, bad bus drivers in general, and Metro Ride Director Greg Seubert.
Krause, speaking with WAOW, claimed she was verbally abused when she tried to enter a bus from the front. Krause told the TV station the driver continually yelled at her, and when he finally let her enter the front doors and used the lift assist, she was yelled at again. Krause says she is disabled and elderly and needs the assistance of the front doors.
It’s not hard to see the problem, even if claims of abuse were non-existent. Blocking access to disabled-accessible features would seem cruel in any other context. Imagine someone pulling out a ramp for someone in a wheelchair so they couldn’t get into a store? It’s unimaginable, because it is so severely mean. But that’s what’s happening here, minus the intention. We as a society never design ADA features with someone operating a switch to turn them on and off depending if the person is disabled; forcing bus drivers into this position puts them in a difficult, if not impossible situation.
The Transit Commission has rendered this moot with its decision on Wednesday (they held a special meeting to make sure it was addressed, in fact). But is there more going on here? The six months of complaints when received will hopefully shed more light on the situation - whether they are isolated incidents or there is a deeper pattern here.