I recently took a ride on the buses with Monque Girard, a wheelchair user with an encyclopedic knowledge of the inconveniences, discomforts, and perils of the bus stops of the WRTA. I’ll give you an example, in her own words:
“Saturday, I was on Shrewsbury Street and my battery was running low. I tried to take a bus home. Even though many of the bus stops on Shrewsbury Street are accessible, if there are drivers parking their cars in a way that prevents the bus from reaching the curb, it is impossible for me to board the bus. While I was trying to find an open curb two buses went by. I had to call my husband to come and push me home. What would I have done if I was living alone?”
What indeed. She can’t call a cab. There are no ADA compliant taxis in Worcester. Paratransit is not an on-demand service. It must be scheduled well in advance. If parking regulations were better enforced, the city would not be abandoning people with disability issues on the street, to fend for themselves. Lax oversight, entitled drivers, and an uncaring government combine to create a barrier to public transportation.
We saw bus stops on highway exit ramps,stops without sidewalks (to use a ramp one needs a curb), stops without crosswalks, and many places where the driver could never safely lower the ramp for other reasons. Altogether we saw around twenty stops with varying degrees of disfunction ranging from the inconvenient to the deadly. By deadly, I mean that a pedestrian was killed at that stop. We chatted with the driver and other passengers, and we all had stories about people we knew who had been knocked down in the street. I myself have been hit. And yes, I was in a crosswalk, paying attention to my surroundings, in the middle of a sunny day.
Worcester plainly fails to meet the needs of its pedestrians, despite the truth that every one of us is a pedestrian sometimes, and some of us are pedestrians all the time.
The buses themselves are adequate. They all kneel, they all have ramps at the front door, and most of the drivers do their best to help passengers safely board and disembark.
However, the streets, curbs, and sidewalks are mostly owned and controlled by the City, which has no coherent vision of what a bus stop should look like.
Over the course of two hours, we saw ten stops without signage, seven that were unusable by anyone with a wheelchair or walker, seven without crosswalks, and only four with a bench or a shelter. Then there was one on the section of Main Street where the “Complete Streets” formula has resulted in a two level curb; a curb with a step, that makes it impossible for the ramp to reach the sidewalk.
As Monique says, “When the City designs a bus stop, someone with a wheelchair must there to show what is possible, And please- update the announcements and maps. There are announcements for stops that no longer exist, and many with no sign that there is one. Our public transportation is inaccessible and dangerous. Let’s fix the impossible, and make it possible.”