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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Silence Isn’t Always Golden

The Orange County Transportation Authority wisely agreed this week not to fire bus drivers for first infractions of failing to call out stops on a route. The outcome reflected needed communication between the authority and the union.

The dispute between drivers and the transit agency arose after several blind riders complained that drivers had failed to announce stops. Unable to drive and faced with sprawling geography that usually rules out walking, the blind are especially dependent on public transportation. If bus drivers fail to call out upcoming stops, the blind can easily become lost.

The OCTA rightly has told its drivers for three years that the law requires the enunciation of bus stops. Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 to extend the protection of civil rights laws to the disabled.

The act requires local transportation agencies to make it easier for the disabled to use mass transit, whether getting on or off buses in a wheelchair or being told when a transfer point is approaching. OCTA directors recently voted to spend $50,000 to help make the county’s bus stops fully accessible to the disabled.

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The drivers union said it supported the disabilities law, but the authority claimed that random inspections found that many drivers failed to announce major bus stops. Two drivers were threatened with dismissal and two dozen others faced lesser discipline.

Both the union and management have agreed to abide by the law, but they apparently had communication problems, which the OCTA made progress toward fixing this week. The agreement called for drivers to get warning letters for a first offense but face firing for a second misstep within a year. That is better than the earlier sanctions; one violation should not cost someone a job.

Bus drivers often have their hands full fighting their way through traffic and keeping an eye on signal lights. But when they can, they should assist all riders, disabled or not. That help personalizes the service and makes for a more enjoyable ride. To those unfamiliar with a route, street announcements are a public service; to the blind, they are a necessity. Bus drivers must remember to speak up.


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