Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Educating riders (write of passage number twenty-nine)

I have a number of errands before taking the Transitway west to pick up younger daughter at school, which means I'm seated on the #1 bus for a little longer than usual as it crawls up Bank Street.  So time is short and it's shortening, when I hear the bus driver challenging a passenger.  I'm close enough to the front to make out that it's an issue with an expired transfer and that neither the driver nor the lady clutching her grocery bags is going to back down.  He's telling her she needs to pay up or get off the bus.  She's arguing something about the number of minutes that have expired; I gather another bus driver has given her some sort of rule about a grace period. She is talking firmly, but not stridently. 

I'm a few stops away from my destination and in a seat by the window, remembering a day about ten years earlier when a small and elderly Jamaican man left his seat when the bus was parked at a transfer point and went up to ask directions.  The bus driver took this opportunity to inform him his transfer had expired.
"But I don't have the correct change."
"There's a vendor on the platform."
"Will you wait while I buy a ticket?"
"No, I have a schedule."
"Please, I'll be very quick."
"No, I cannot hold the bus for you.'
"Please, I have diabetes...."
"Do you want me to call an ambulance?"
"No, I just..."
The bus driver had a phone in his hand now.  "Are you saying this is an emergency? Because if you are ill, I will call an ambulance!"
After a few more exchanges, the little old man finally lost his temper and swore.  The bus driver responded as if he'd been struck and began yelling about abuse.  He got on his phone and loudly asked for backup.
By this time, more than one passenger inched forward to pay the man's fare, but the driver blocked them and said he'd made the call, there was no going back and this was going to the authorities.
At this point, I got off and waited with a number of others for the next bus.  A lady caught my eye and said quietly, "You know, if it were my mother on that bus and she was not well and alone, I wouldn't want her treated that way."
I answered wearily, "Your mother is a probably just like my mother -- a nice little old white lady.  The only reason this happened is because this was a little old black man."
I went home and wrote a detailed email to OC Transpo for which I was thanked with what was undoubtedly a response form.

In the few seconds that it takes me to recall this, I make my decision and excuse myself to the lady on the aisle.  It's something I wished I had done ten years ago before things escalated and I sense an escalation here. Pushing my way forward, I drop two tickets into the box, and tell the lady, "I've paid your fare, go have a seat."
"That's very kind of you," says the lady, not budging. I have the distinct impression she's not about to give up her point and will resume the discussion once I've alighted.
"That is very generous of you," says the bus driver, as I long for the bus to stop so I can get out.  "But how is she ever going to learn?"

How is she ever going to learn? The lady is somewhere around my age, well-spoken, neatly dressed, her shopping bags at her sides.  Is this bus driver here to teach her a lesson?  About what? Manners? She hasn't been discourteous, just firm.  Honesty?  She clearly thinks there is a grace period for transfers.  I think she's mistaken; there's nothing about a grace period on OC Transpo's web site.  But were she a white woman, I don't think this guy would be going on about what she's got to learn.

I don't say this to the bus driver.  He's on one of my regular routes and I'm likely to encounter him again.

1 comment:

Justine Levine said...

Thank you for doing this. It's astounding to me that we live in a country where things like this still happen, but I am astounded almost every day. We just don't talk about it any more; that's the only difference.