Posted April 25, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

Intercity Transit: Why I Don’t Ride the Bus

I don’t ride the bus in Olympia because I don’t want to guess if I’ll be getting a ride home or not.

On April 7, the Nightline bus reached the Farwell street stop and then sat there for roughly 20 minutes while multiple Evergreen students were refused service. The ordeal began when student Matt Ramirez didn’t have an updated sticker on his student ID or the fare to ride the bus.

“It was Saturday of the grace period, so I figured that was fine,” said Ramirez, “If I got there, then I could easily get back.” When Ramirez tried to get on the bus, the driver denied him.

As more people got on the bus, Ramirez became frustrated and called the operator a “dick.” After this there would be no bargaining with the driver. To the point of begging on his knees, Ramirez apologized and tried to get on the bus. No dice.

Soon the passengers already on the bus became fed up with the situation and began loudly voicing their opinions. The supervisor of the bus route was called out to the scene.

The Nightline is known by riders as the “drunk bus,” because it runs at one, two, and three in the morning, hauling people from the bars downtown–and parties along the way–on the 41 route back to the Evergreen campus.

“I didn’t think anyone was belligerently drunk,” said Ramirez, “and if it did seem that way it was only because people were getting frustrated at the fact that this guy was being so difficult.”

Intercity Transit has a set of Rules of Conduct for their service. Within these rules, the rights of operators are established. If a person doesn’t have fare money, uses profanity, harasses an operator, or becomes a threat to the safety of people on the bus, they can be refused service.

According to Communications Manager Meg Kester, Intercity Transit trains its drivers to use discretion in any given situation and to always be aware of public safety. Kester said the driver of the bus that night was concerned for the safety of the passengers.

While worrying about the safety of passengers on the bus is completely valid, and should be the main concern of public services, what about the safety of the people who were kicked off the bus for not having a sticker to prove they had paid? Or what about the people expecting the 3 a.m. bus, which was rerouted after the incident on Division Street by request of the Olympia Police Department?

Evergreen is located in the middle of the woods and the roads to get to campus aren’t safe for pedestrians. There are very few streetlights and hardly any paths–besides a few narrow bike paths–between west Olympia and Evergreen’s campus. When people are stranded on Division Street at two in the morning, they are facing a long walk back to campus in poor conditions.

“Some people called taxis after the supervisor came,” said Ramirez, “I hitch- hiked.” He isn’t a stranger to hitchhiking, but admitted to being picked up by drunk drivers in the past–a situation no one should be subjected to.

So what kind of alternatives do students have if they forget to update their latest sticker before the grace period ends the Friday of week one each quarter? Take a taxi (which are sparse in Olympia), walk (hopefully not alone down Division or Cooper Point Road), or get picked up by a stranger (and keep your fingers crossed that they aren’t drunk). These are not feasible options.

The grey area that arises from the sticker system, the grace period, and reliance on the kindness of bus operators has created problems.

“Some bus drivers are more lax and some are more strict about the grace period, riding with a non-current sticker,” said Kester.

Last week, Cecile Malik, a member of the Evergreen community who uses Intercity Transit everyday, witnessed a student getting denied the 10 p.m. bus from campus April 17.

The student had lost her wallet and hadn’t been able to get a new ID yet. She had a large bill, but not the proper change to pay the fare. The driver told her she couldn’t ride without fare or ID to prove she was a student, and the small amount of change she did have was not enough.

“He was really unfriendly and cold,” said Malik.

Taking matters into her own hands, Malik loudly said she would pay the student’s fare and write a complaint to Intercity Transit. The driver stopped Malik from paying and had the student put in her change to ride. “I had never seen or imagined a bus driver being so rude to a passenger, and never thought that one could leave a student behind, alone at night on campus, so far removed from the city.”

People shouldn’t have to guess if they are getting a ride home or not.

Times are tight, especially for services such as Intercity Transit whose “operating revenue continues to be down and lower than expected given the economic sluggishness of these times,” according to Kester. People get frustrated easily about minor things. But when students forgets their IDs, I doubt they are trying to cheat the system; they just want a safe ride home.

Providing a public service, such as transportation, can be challenging.

However, if safety is a priority for Intercity Transit, then how can they allow incidents like these to occur? Is $1.25 really worth leaving students on the side of the road or stranded on campus?

By Kelli Tokos