Yesterday I did something that was so normal for me a few months ago, I could hardly understand why it was such an ordeal.
I rode the bus in Seattle.
Since moving here in 2001, I have ridden transit at least once a week, sometimes multiple times a day to all kind of destinations and on almost of the services available: Metro express and local service, Sound Transit Express bus and light rail, even Amtrak. Oh, and I've studied worked in the transit world for the last 8 years.
But yesterday was the first time I rode transit with a mobility device. And boy was it a different experience.
For those who don't know, for three years I helped improve access and transportation options for people with mobility limitations of all types, whether due to age, injury, disability, income or language. I even spearheaded the creation of a series of videos on how to ride the bus for seniors and people with disabilities in 8 languages! And yet when it was time for me to hop the bus with a broken foot, I found myself struggling to do so.
Here's what happened.
I used Google to plan my trip from downtown Seattle to Issaquah, on buses I've taken in the past. The first option it showed me was a one-seat ride that would have required a four block walk--something I would have readily done just a couple months ago. But this time, I stared in disbelief at the option knowing that rolling myself downhill from 5th Ave to 2nd Ave would be treacherous at best on my knee-scooter.
Option two required just one block walk to the first stop and then a transfer. Happy about the initial short travel distance, I was dismayed to note that I would have to scoot three blocks from where the first bus would let me off the to second bus--and I'd only have 5 minutes to make the trek, assuming my first bus was on time. Again, this option would have been fine if I was walking, but the thought of having to scoot under time constraints thru multiple signaled intersections seemed ill-advised.
Luckily there was a third option, again requiring a transfer and with the longest travel time of all the options, but it was by far the best for me in my current state of limited mobility. The initial bus would pick up three blocks from where I was along a mostly flat sidewalk and then I would transfer to a bus at the same stop where I'd get off the first bus.
Hooray! I had found a viable option!
I made it to the bus stop on time and even got my cash ready to go. I searched the sign at the bus stop to figure out what I'd owe, but despite my double Master's degrees, I couldn't find the price to Issaquah. So I waited to ask the bus driver.
When the bus arrived, I let everyone else board, patiently waiting to request the ramp. The drive happily complied and when the ramp wouldn't deploy itself, he easily did it himself. Everything was going as I expected until I tried to board the ramp. As I attempted to push my scooter up the ramp, it bounced off the lip and bucked me off--prompting me to instinctively catch myself with my broken right foot! "Ouch," I yelped! Although pleased to have avoided smashing my face into the pavement, I was pissed I'd put weight on my injured leg and annoyed that I couldn't just roll up onto the bus as I'd anticipated. I got it on the second try, lifting the front tires of my scooter onto the ramp and then rolling aboard.
Once on board, I asked the driver for the fare to Issaquah. He didn't know. So I read the sign on the bus determining I needed to pay $2.50 for a one-county fare. Getting my cash ready, I asked the driver for a transfer as I would need to change buses. He reminded me that Sound Transit doesn't offer transfer passes anymore. "Great!" I thought. "Now this little bus ride is going to cost me $5 instead of $2.50." Fortunately, as I went to feed my cash into the machine, the driver informed me that the cash machine was broken and I was getting a free ride. Yay me.
I found a seat in the front, parked my scooter and put on its brakes, and rode the six stops to the transfer point in peaceful silence. When it was time to get off, I waited patiently for everyone to get off, then unloaded myself via the ramp.
When the second bus came, I had my exact fare ready and again waited for everyone else to load. Have I mentioned that I hate being last? Well, I do. But such is a the life of someone who needs the ramp or lift on transit. Again I had to request the lift, as if it was not obvious that I needed it. This time, having learned my lesson, I lifted the front of my scooter onto the ramp and slowly pushed my way aboard, paid the fare and took my seat in the front of the bus.
I had forgotten how lovely it is to ride the bus across Lake Washington:
No view of Mt. Rainier today but the scenery was lovely as always.
I also broke the bus-riders' code and asked another passenger to take a photo of me aboard the bus with my scooter.
Me and my scooter aboard the #554.
Having broken the ice with this complete stranger, we got to talking and discovered that he was from Bogota and I had studied there. An interesting conversation about the relative merits of transit in Bogota vs. Seattle ensued in Spanglish (more about that in another post) and I was thankful that the novelty of riding the bus with a scooter had enboldened me to talk to my fellow transit rider.
When the bus reached my final destination, I again waited--a little less patiently-- for everyone else to get off before again asking for the ramp so I could exit. The bus driver did not reply but did push the button for the ramp and then looked away as I cautiously scooted to the sidewalk. I guess a friendly "sure!" or "no problem" was too much to hope for, much less a bus driver able to anticipate I would need the ramp to get off since I'd needed it to board.
Despite all the minor inconveniences and the pain of standing on my barred-from-weight-bearing foot, I had successfully rode the bus! I'd love to say this is a big deal, but really I've been doing this for 13 years.