Call-a-Bus Meets Anne Woodlen

We interrupt this series of blogs about Medicaid patients being unable to get home health aides in order to bring you a short history of Call-a-Bus.

Call-a-Bus, hereinafter referred to as CAB, is public transportation solely for people who are disabled, not people who just are poor or old, although they frequently are that, too. CAB is a subsidiary of Centro bus company.

Centro is proud to say that they created the paratransit service prior to 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. Big whoop. Some guy was made head of CAB but he only held the position briefly. Thereafter, Linda McKeown became the manager and continues to manage some 25 years later. She managed it as a substandard service, which is to say that it operated below the standards set by law. When an investigator asked me why I thought she did that, I replied, “I don’t think she’s smart enough to understand the regulations.”

First, you have to apply for use of Call-a-Bus. Back when I started using CAB in 2001 your application might not be acted upon for as long as six months. Fact: the law requires a decision with 21 days or you ride anyway.

The call-takers were bullies. They had absolute control over whether you traveled or not and they used that power to be mean. They were not serving the public; they were ordering it around. Riders had no rights. CAB operated on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Nothing was negotiated as it was supposed to be. Rides were being denied because there weren’t enough buses.

Call-takers approved or disapproved ride requests on the basis of medical diagnosis, e.g., people without one iota of medical training were deciding if a person with cerebral palsy got to ride or not. Cerebral palsy can manifest as mildly as a gimpy arm or as extremely as being unable to see, limited ability to speak, inability to walk or self-feed. And, under Linda McKeown, clerks without medical training made judgments about medical diagnoses. CAB wasn’t supposed to be using medical diagnoses at all. Eligibility was supposed to be based on functionality: Can you walk one block? Can you stand for ten minutes? Can you climb three stairs?

The call-takers based your ride scheduling on the line bus schedule in your neighborhood, plus or minus one hour. If you lived in the suburbs that only had four line buses a day then you might have to accept at pickup at 10:00 a.m. for a lunch appointment downtown; your earliest return might not be until 2:30 p.m.

If you asked for a pickup at 4:15 p.m., you would be picked up whenever it was convenient for McKeown’s people to schedule it. Then you could be kept on the bus for hours. One person, going from James Street to a place near Carrier Circle, was kept on the bus two hours for a 12-minute trip.

Our major problems were with the call-takers, working with McKeown literally looking over their shoulder, but there also were problems with the drivers. For instance, one driver folded up a manual wheelchair and drove the bus with one hand while he held the chair with the other. Another driver folded up a wheelchair and left it loose, rolling up and down the aisle.

I was almighty distressed with all the problems so friends and advocates told me that there would be a meeting with McKeown and I should bring my problems and ask her. I attended the meeting at which McKeown sat on a raised platform above us and refused to answer my questions. I left in tears. Thereafter—i.e., after McKeown left—the attendees decided to form a committee to deal with the abuses and ineffectiveness of Call-a-Bus. It was named the Public Transportation Advisory Committee (PTAC), despite that some us intended to do a heck of a lot more than give advice.

Beata Karpinsky, director of advocacy at Arise, invited us to meet at Arise and thereby installed herself as functional head of the committee. Nothing happened until or unless Beata wanted it to. Linda McKeown was invited to come to the meetings, which she did. She came without any preparation, even to the point of having to borrow a paper and pencil if she wanted to make a note. She refused to give out any information. She would not tell us how her office operated, what the process was for ride scheduling, on what basis rides were allowed or disallowed, how many people she had working for her, how many buses were on the road, or any other thing. She was a tyrant, exercising complete control over the peasants.

After a couple years of this, Beata set up a conference call with David Knight, an attorney with the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Civil Rights. Beata had first made contact with him about a year earlier but neither had followed up nor told us about him. David and I quickly developed an effective working relationship, which appalled Beata. “How dare you talk to him like that?” she asked. I talked to him “like that” because I was an intelligent citizen with a right to have her problems solved, and he was an intelligent government employee who believed he was there to serve the needs of the citizens.

David Knight told me that it is against the law for a paratransit company to deny rides based on “capacity constraints.” If Centro didn’t have enough short buses to carry the load then they had to buy more. If, as often happened, you couldn’t get a phone call through to CAB then Centro had to add more telephone lines and more call-takers. Disabled riders, by God, federal law and Attorney David Knight, had rights. And I was learning about them, which was to prove costly for Centro.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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