In early 2004, I traveled to Washington, DC to attend a hearing on a piece of legislation of great importance to the disability community. I planned this trip well in advance and decided to travel via Greyhound. After all, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been in place for over ten years, so there should not have been any major problems involving access for passengers using wheelchairs. Little did I know that I would be taking the worst trip ever!
It started innocently enough. A little over two weeks before my journey, I contacted Greyhound and purchased a round-trip ticket from Denver, Colorado to Washington, DC, informing them during the process that I used a wheelchair and would need a lift-equipped bus. I also told them that I would be traveling alone and staying in my wheelchair. Three days later, on the fourteenth day before the trip, I called and confirmed that the accommodations were in place, and went over the itinerary with Greyhound staff. Everything was in place, according to them.
On the day of the trip, I arrived at the Greyhound terminal a few hours early. My bus was scheduled to leave at 7:00 pm. When the allotted time came and went with no bus, I began to get nervous. By 8:00 pm, there still was no bus, and the other passengers were getting antsy. At 9:00 pm, a Greyhound staffer came over to me and explained loud enough for everyone to hear that they had forgotten that an accessible bus was needed, and that they were still trying to locate one. At that point, there was loud mutterings from the other passengers and baleful looks aimed in the direction of me and another gentleman in a wheelchair.
When 10:00 pm arrived and there was no bus, I was sure that there was going to be a lynching party starring me and the other gentleman. While the poor guy cowered in his chair, obviously wishing for a hole to fall into, I vociferously defended my right to travel, citing the ADA and placing the blame where it belonged – on Greyhound. Finally, at 10:30 pm, the bus arrived and everyone boarded. This was a spectacularly bad harbinger of things to come.
As we journeyed east, stopping in every dorp and burg on the map, the driver would occasionally let people off to take a smoke break. He would not allow me to get off, but did open the lift door near me so that I could get some fresh air. At one stop, there was a 90 minute layover. When the driver would not let me off, I rebelled, invoking the name of ADAPT, explaining who I really was and promising to write long letters to Greyhound, and to speak to my congressman and senators while I was in Washington, DC. Needless to say, the driver assented and I was able to get breakfast and freshen up. Meanwhile, my fellow disabled passenger treated me as if I were a superhero.
Major problems arose when we arrived in St. Louis, where I was to change buses. They, too, had forgotten to have an accessible bus ready, resulting in a three hour wait. When the bus finally arrived, the driver did not know how to operate the lift. It took a half hour to find someone to train the driver in its use.
The worst part of this fiasco was in Pittsburgh, the last leg of the trip. Once again, the accessible bus was “forgotten”. At this point, I went into full activist mode and demanded to see the station manager. I was directed to the office of the regional manager, where I immediately registered a written complaint. The regional manager listened to my story with growing disbelief and anger. He began making calls verifying my reservation of accommodations, and threatening termination of the staff in the Pittsburgh office who messed up. He also personally saw to it that an accessible bus was found, and authorized the driver to take me as a single passenger (the other gentleman had alighted in Indiana) and deadhead (make no stops along the way) to Washington, DC. There was one problem – the heat on the bus did not work. The driver bundled me in blankets to ward off the winter chill and we headed out.
I made it safely to Washington, DC and attended the hearing. I won’t bother to go into the details of the arduous trek home except to say that I filed a detailed ADA complaint to the Department of Justice regarding my Greyhound trip. I promised myself that I would never ride the Dirty Dog again and I haven’t done so in the six years since that trip. To this day I still hear complaints from people with disabilities, particularly in small towns, about lift and access issues on Greyhound.