Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adventures in Public Transportation #3

I posted #1 in this series in 2011. It was as about a transportation service for disabled people, called RTP. It sucks, and I haven’t used it since.

I posted #2 in this series in 2012. It was about my initial ride on the South Portland Public Bus system with Kim, and my first solo ride shortly thereafter. Big effing deal. What a rookie I was.

Fast-forward to 2014, where I am a seasoned city bus rider. That’s right. I ride the bus once or twice per week on average. My most common destination is the physical therapy clinic near the Maine Mall. I also go to the mall or to downtown Portland on occasion. My frequent bus travel started in the spring of this year, so I’m uncertain how I’ll like this mode of transportation in the middle of the winter. It’s going to be freaking cold.

My PT appointments are scheduled for 3:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I leave my house at about 2:39 PM for the 2:40 bus. We have a new, enclosed transportation hub one block from my house, and it has pushbutton operated doors. The bus is anywhere between five minutes and twenty-five minutes late. So I sit in the transportation hub and read for a few minutes.

Any number of buses may pull up to the curb while I’m waiting, but the one I want is number 24B. When it approaches, I push the door-open button, exit the building, and situate myself squarely in line with the front door of the bus. This lets the driver know that I would like to board.

But before I can do that, the bus driver has to fold up one of the two bench seats to expose one of the two wheelchair stations on the bus. Usually that means evicting passengers who sat there at their own risk (there is a big sign indicating that they may have to move for wheelchair users). I then board the bus via a ramp or lift, endure the disapproving looks from the disenfranchised bench sitters, squeeze down through the aisle until I get to my spot, do a 180 degrees turn so that I am facing forward instead of backward, and then situate myself in the designated wheelchair spot. I perform this maneuver deftly, even elegantly, so I am surprised and disappointed that I’ve yet to receive any applause. Sometimes I take a bow nonetheless.

There are four tiedown straps and hooks on the floor. I soon learned that the cool wheelchair people do not ask to be secured. That process holds up the entire bus for a minute or two. I am now one of the cool wheelchair people. I suppose I’m not being absolutely safe, but neither do I worry during a bus ride where nobody wears a seatbelt, and several people on the bus are standing.

Once I am in position, the bus driver closes the door, folds up the ramp or the lift, and pulls away from the transportation hub.

I’m like a small child, in that once I get on this bus I have trouble keeping my eyes open. I typically recline in my wheelchair twenty degrees or so, elevate my feet a little, close my eyes, and rest. I only fell asleep once, and I missed my stop, so I don’t do that anymore. I’m not a pretty sight for people getting on or off the bus. They probably look at me and wonder just how awful my life must be, to have such a big wheelchair in such a reclined position – and the poor bastard can’t even stay awake! But I don’t care. I'm a hell of a lot more comfortable than they are.

When the bus approaches my stop I’m supposed to pull on a cord to alert the driver, but I have trouble with that. So, when I board the bus I tell the driver, “I’ll be getting off at Kaplan University.” So far they haven’t forgotten me. When we approach my stop, which is nothing more than a sign on the side of the street, the bus pulls over and we reverse the boarding process. I am dumped on the sidewalk of a very busy road.

I travel a couple hundred yards to Saco Bay Physical Therapy, where I push the door-open button, and I am at my destination. If things go well, I’m usually about ten minutes early for my appointment, and the therapists accommodate me. If things go poorly I might be ten minutes late, and again, the therapists accommodate me.

Kim gets out of work in time to pick me up at 4:30 PM. I’ve never taken the bus home because I don’t like the idea of sitting out in the elements by the side of the road for five minutes to twenty-five minutes waiting for the bus to pick me up. When I get into our wheelchair van Kim has usually been waiting for a few minutes, so she is typing away furiously on her smart phone. One of us will ask, "How was your day?" Then the other person will reciprocate. Next, the conversation inevitably goes toward, “So, what are we going to do for dinner tonight?” The last element of our meet and greet is to bitch and complain about the traffic or the idiocy of a specific driver. Once these compulsory requirements are met, we are free to discuss whatever we wish. Common topics are quantum mechanics, current events in the middle east, and our favorite political advertisements.


  1. Mitch,

    You have a great sense of humor. I love it! Would enjoy reading a bus riding post from you regarding the interesting people you may observe on the bus.


  2. I've yet to try using public transportation in the states. When I was in Dublin, I tried it and found it be an enjoyable adventure. I keep thinking I should get acquainted with it here in NJ, but after reading how well you handle it, I may give it a go!

  3. Hiya Mitch!

    Thanks for passing along your acquired knowledge of what "cool wheelchair people do".

    You discuss QM? I find that subject fascinating! So many areas to explore. Was watching two videos on the subject just a few days ago. In the event you may find them of interest I'll post links here:
    Particles, Fields and The Future of Physics - A Lecture by Sean Carroll
    from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEKSpZPByD0


    Quantum Physics NOVA HD 1080p
    from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVPIGtGcYE0

    Thanks for posting amigo!

  4. When I was newly diagnosed and in a w/c I started taking the bus and became quite adept at it, doing the 180 degree turn into the designated spot. Being in a manual chair meant I had to be strapped in, though.

    I now have this new Quantum Edge, and I don't yet have a proper ramp to exit my back yard; also, my Joystick skills are lacking, so I don't know how well I would maneuver myself in the tight quarters of a bus. Perhaps next Summer I will give it a go; see how many toes I can crush.

  5. Kathy, I'm glad you appreciate my attempt at humor. I certainly do meet some interesting characters on the bus...

    Muffie, please let me know how it goes for you!

    Darren, I would've been disappointed if your ears hadn't perked up when I mentioned quantum mechanics. Of course I was being facetious when I said that Kim and I discuss these matters – she has zero interest in theoretical physics or Middle East politics, and we share an aversion to political advertising. But I will look over the posts that you sent me. good stuff!

    Webster, I feel bad every time I do crush a toe, but it seems my victims always apologize to me more than I do to them. Good luck!

  6. thanks for the report. a large part of my interest in moving closer to town is proximity to the bus. nice to know it works!

  7. I was thinking of you this morning Mitch. We live in the "far suburbs" of Chicago and don't have any public transportation within walking distance. But we do have a wonderful senior and ADA Dial-a-ride. A phone call at least 24 hours in advance will have an accessible mini-bus pull right up to your house and take you to any destination within it's 1/2 county range for $4.

    This morning I got a brand new bus driver. She insisted that my walker be tied down before she could move. Luckily there was only one person who had to wait the five minutes for her to secure my walker with two tie downs so it wouldn't roll.

    On the way home? "You good with holding onto that?" Me - "Yep, I'm good" as I set the hand brakes and keep one hand on it throughout the ride.

  8. Stephen, the city is the place to be for wheelchair or scooter users.

    Mary Ellen, I wish our ADA ride system was as friendly as yours!