Wheelchair-Bound Youth Finds Green Bus A No-Go
In the sweltering heat last Tuesday morning, Rise Davis pushed her son’s wheelchair towards the Green Line bus stop at Beach 40 Street and Beach Channel Drive. The pair waited for a bus to take them to the Medicaid office in Far Rockaway before her son, Jerel Minter, who suffers from mild Cerebral Palsy, went to St. John’s Hospital for a doctor’s appointment. The mother and son normally do not ride the bus, but a broken-down automobile for Davis and an injured knee for her 11-year-old son forced them to change plans and to use public transportation.
When the first Green Line bus stopped, the driver told Davis she couldn’t board because the wheelchair lift was broken. The second bus driver said the bus had a broken lift, as well. A passenger on the second bus even offered to lift the wheelchair onto the bus himself, but that was prevented because it was in violation of procedure. The third bus driver gave the same story as all the others - broken lift. The fourth bus driver didn’t say a word, instead simply making a gesture of cutting his forefinger across his throat to let her know that there was no way to get her son onto the bus.
Minter grew tired of waiting at the bus stop. An hour and a half and five buses later, Davis called a taxi. By the time she finally reached the Medicaid office, it was closed.
All told, it cost Davis $35 in taxi service for what would have been three trips on the Green Line. Davis, whose car broke down on Monday, was mystified at how Green Line buses could not be equipped to handle handicap passengers. "Why are all these buses on the street when the wheelchair lifts aren’t working?" said Davis. Her son Jerel, a shy child with an uplifting smile, was equally perplexed that he wasn’t allowed to board the bus. "I don’t understand why all the lifts are broken," said Minter. "They should have fixed it a long time ago."
The aging Green Line fleet has been subject to a great deal of passenger angst in Rockaway. Many of buses in the fleet are 18 years old or more, well beyond the useful life of a bus, said Jamie Van Bremer, spokesman for Green Line. A few buses are so old replacement parts can no longer be found for them.
More than a year ago, Green Line asked the Department of Transportation, who owns the fleet, for 70 more buses to assuage what Van Bremer referred to as a "very trying situation." The Department of Transportation didn’t provide any new buses. "The reality is that in the fleet of buses, there are lifts that are not working, said Van Bremer. "Unfortunately, we’re forced to put every piece of equipment on the road."
Green Line is not the only option for the wheelchair bound, Access-A-Ride will transport handicapped people anywhere in the five boroughs for $2 each way. Eligibility is determined through an application process that takes up to three weeks. Once accepted into the program, participants must give Access-A-Ride one to four days notice before pickup.
After stopping at The Wave to voice their concern, the family tried one last time to board the Q22 line around 11:30 a.m. The driver immediately recognized the young boy in the wheelchair and his mother. "Today’s not your day," said the bus driver, who then closed the door and drove off into the mid-day sun.