More than 30 wheelchair demonstrators blocked busy Labor Day bus travel at the Greyhound Bus Depot on Monday as part of a dramatic nationwide protest over what they said is Greyhound's refusal to provide wheelchair lifts, or to allow travel by wheelchair passengers without an attendant and a doctor's note. Six demonstrators were arrested.
Describing their protest as a civil rights campaign for the disabled, demonstrators young and old gathered at the main Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Los Angeles, maneuvering their wheelchairs in front of arriving buses and forming a line to block departing buses for nearly an hour. Demonstrators in 13 other cities conducted similar protests. Eight were arrested in Hartford, Conn.
Greyhound officials here declined comment, referring reporters to a public relations spokesman at the Greyhound Lines Inc. office in Dallas. The office was closed. In the past, Greyhound officials have said that thousands of disabled passengers have taken advantage of what the line calls its "helping hands" policy. The policy allows attendants of wheelchair passengers to travel for free.
The protests were coordinated by a group called ADAPT, Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation, which has been protesting the company's policy since 1984. Describing Greyhound's policies toward the disabled as reminiscent of the apartheid, or the racial segregationist, policies of South Africa, the group called upon people to divest themselves of Greyhound stock.
Protesters said Greyhound buses in the United States do not have wheelchair lifts. Because of laws protecting the handicapped from discriminatory practices in Canada, they said, Greyhound buses there do have such lifts.
To travel on U.S. buses, they said, Greyhound requires a written note from a doctor and an attendant accompanying each wheelchair passenger. No electric wheelchairs are allowed, they said.
"Greyhound has very discriminating, patronizing policies toward the disabled," charged protester Julie Farrar, 20, of San Diego. "We don't need a note from our mommies to ride the city bus. Why do we need one to ride Greyhound?"
She said she became involved in ADAPT last year after she tried to board a Greyhound bus in Denver and was refused access.
"I told them I could climb up the steps and drag my chair behind me because it's light," she said. "They wouldn't let me. An image problem, I suppose. And they wouldn't let anybody else help me. A liability problem, they said."
The protesters converged on the main Los Angeles depot at 7th and Maple streets about 1 p.m., just as holiday traffic began carrying travelers home from the three-day weekend.
Carrying placards that read: "Access Is a Civil Right," "Freedom for Rural Americans" and "Greyhound Is a Dirty Dog," the protesters shouted slogans including, "All aboard!" and "We will ride!" Relatives and supporters sprayed the protesters with water to relieve them in the sweltering heat.
More than a dozen arriving buses, backed up by the protest, were unable to enter the depot. Other buses remained trapped inside the cavernous facility.
Shortly after 2 p.m., a dozen Los Angeles police officers ordered the protesters to leave. They refused, demanding a meeting with corporate Greyhound officials "with the power to change the policy."
Richard Gomez, Greyhound's regional general manager, said he offered to meet with the protesters but was turned down because he did not have authority to implement policy changes.
'Civil Rights' Violation
The first two arrested were non-disabled supporters, including homeless leader Ted Hayes, who had joined in the protest and was directing wheelchair traffic. Then police arrested four protesters in wheelchairs, including two demonstration coordinators, Diane Coleman and Bill Bolte.
"I told them it was a violation of our civil rights to take us out of wheelchairs," Coleman said as four officers came to carry her into a paddy wagon, adding wryly: "I'm surprised they didn't rent a vehicle with wheelchair access. That's what police have done at most of our national actions before. . . . I can't believe they're doing this."
Though the confrontation between police and demonstrators was, for the most part, polite, some demonstrators refused to move, forcing police to fumble with the unfamiliar wheelchair brakes and electric controls. Several protesters spun away, blocking yet more incoming buses. One young man, Randy Horton, 28, clambered out of his chair and lay down behind the front wheels of a waiting bus. He was not injured.
The six arrested were charged with trespassing and released late Monday afternoon.
The demonstration delayed buses for 30 to 60 minutes, diluting the sympathy some passengers felt for the protesters.
"I'm tired, I'm mad, and I've got people waiting for me in San Diego," said Jeff Ebright, who was trying to return home with his family after his car stalled in the heat here over the holiday. "If they've got a beef, why do they have to inconvenience all of us?"
Farrar said she had responded politely to several such comments by passengers who saw the protest.
" 'I'm sorry you're being inconvenienced for a day,' I tell them," she said. "But we're being inconvenienced for a lifetime."