Frank Kobliski, Executive Director of Centro Bus Company
200 Cortland Avenue
PO BOX 820
Syracuse, NY 13205-0820
May 14, 2012
Yesterday I was at Shoppingtown Mall when Call-a-Bus paratransit picked me up in my wheelchair at 3:30 p.m. All day, the sun had been shining on the roof of the bus and in the wrap-around windows, so it was very, very hot in the passenger compartment. And, of course, the windows do not open on the short buses so there was no relief from the heat. It is a sealed box with the temperature rising; it is an oven.
When I had gotten home from Syracuse University commencement at 11:30 a.m., the temperature in my apartment was 80 degrees. Based on that, I would estimate the temperature in the back of the bus to have been at least 95 degrees. At home, I turned on the air conditioning, so, on the bus, I asked the driver to turn on the air conditioning. (To the best of my recollection, the driver was not wearing a name tag or the Centro uniform, as required.)
He said the air conditioning was on. It wasn’t. I’ve been riding Call-a-Bus since around 2001; he’s only been driving a couple of months. The air conditioning system on short buses is very loud and if it is operating then you have to yell to be heard above it. I wasn’t yelling.
From his gestures, he may have been indicating that the air conditioning was on in the driver’s compartment. The short buses used by Call-a-Bus (CAB) not only have a window that can be opened next to the driver but also they have two air conditioning systems: one that serves the driver and another one that is designed for the passenger space. In short, the driver can be quite comfortable while the passengers are suffering.
Many CAB drivers simply don’t care about the comfort of their passengers—this driver was one of them. When I asked him to call the dispatcher and report that the air conditioning wasn’t working, he ignored me.
The effects of excessive heat are multiple:
- Heat causes irritability and loss of comprehension, thus compromising the rider’s ability to effectively make her needs known to an uncooperative driver.
- Heat increases heart rate and blood pressure. CAB is carrying only disabled riders, many of whom already have heart and blood pressure problems and therefore are placed at risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Heat causes fluid retention, which takes a day or two to resolve. The damage is not something that disappears as soon as the rider gets off the bus; the suffering continues.
- Heat affects women worse than men. The majority of CAB riders are women.
- Heat has a worse effect on overweight people. Many CAB riders are overweight because their disabilities make them sedentary and unable to engage in normal exercise.
- “Age (particularly for people about 45 years and older), poor general health, and a low level of fitness will make people more susceptible to feeling the extremes of heat.” That is a description of every CAB rider. This is not about comfort; this is about medical danger.
By the time I got off the bus, my fingers were swollen, I had a headache, and I was tearful; I was sick the rest of the day. You turned my pleasant afternoon outing into a day of sickness and despair.
While exiting the bus, I called the CAB cancellation number (442-3434) and got Tim, who is a relatively new employee. Tim is currently the best employee in the CAB department. He is intelligent and immediately understood that not having air conditioning was a dangerous situation. He made certain that I was safely off the bus, checked and discovered that it was the driver’s last ride, and said he would follow up on it.
Every summer I have been filing complaints about CAB short buses running without air conditioning. In most cases—quite possibly all cases—it is because the driver doesn’t know how to turn on the air conditioning in the passenger compartment. You are putting people in the driver’s seat who are substitutes, inexperienced, poorly trained or irresponsible. STOP IT.
- Make it a clearly posted policy that any driver who leaves the garage without knowing how to turn on the air conditioning will be fired upon returning to the garage. (Torturing sick people is not a minor infraction.)
- Any driver who is in a bus without functioning air conditioning is to report it to the dispatcher immediately. (Drivers consistently refuse to report no air conditioning while on the road.)
- Any dispatcher who is notified of nonfunctioning air conditioning is to swap out the bus immediately. (What the CAB employees currently are telling the driver is “Well, you have a break in about an hour, so you can bring it in . . .”)
According to The Weather Channel, “Even with the windows cracked on a 70° F to 80° F day, while it may feel comfortable outside, the inside of your car can heat up to over 100° F in minutes.” It is a crime to leave a dog or a baby in an overheated car, yet your drivers leave disabled adults in overheated buses every summer. I have repeatedly filed complaints; you have not fixed the problem. Frank, your wife has had a critical heart condition—would you leave her in a 100-degree bus? No? Then why do you leave other human beings there?
So here’s what I’m going to do: the next time I’m on an overheated Call-a-Bus and the air conditioning isn’t working, I’m going to call the police and have the driver arrested, and I’m going to call television stations and have the arrest filmed for the evening news.
I will do whatever it takes to protect people who are disabled. What will you do?
Anne C Woodlen