MBTA; Abuse of Authority.
It was a Saturday evening on February 22nd, 2014 and I had just arrived at the Forest Hills Bus Station in Boston. I quickly found the bus stop for the #42 and checked my phone; it was 9:38 PM, success! The bus was scheduled to arrive at 9:40 PM and I had turned an approximate 20 minute walk into about at 13 minutes by power walking. I sat down on the concrete, back behind the bus stop to cool down for a minute or two and wait. I had never ridden on the #42 bus to Dudley Station before but I was aware the #42 may not be the safest bus to ride at night. I was also aware of Dudley Station’s reputation for being one of the deadliest bus stations in Boston, but I was on a mission to deliver a wool/cashmere trench coat and a long sleeve button up shirt I had bought for a friend of mine, who lived minutes away from Dudley. I work days, and I had been putting of this trip for a couple of weeks now, so I decided last Saturday night was the night finally.
The bus was running late, but I didn’t mind too much. I was a bit hot from my power walk to Forest Hills, so the below 40 degree weather actually felt nice at the time. The #42 pulled into the station and dropped off its passengers a few hundred feet away from the bus stop just after 9:50 PM. The bus proceeded to pull away from the curb, when all of the sudden I heard another bus honk its horn. The #42 bus stopped in the middle of the bus lane, still a hundred feet or so from the bus stop, where all six of us were waiting to board. The other passengers waiting to board and I stayed where we were and continued to wait. Another bus driver got off his bus, which was now pulled over with its lights off, and ran over to the #42. At first I assumed there was something important the other bus driver needed to tell him, but after about a minute of listening it was clear this was not an urgent conversation based on all the chuckling and talk of what they were going to do after work. We all waited silent for about another two minutes before an older black woman yelled out loud enough for the bus driver to hear, “Come on man, hurry up with that conversation.”
The bus driver replied, “Give me a break. It’s been a long night.”
The woman nodded her head in agreement and responded, “It’s been a long night for me too, me too.”
The driver harshly yelled back, “Well, I don’t give a shit!”
I saw the woman’s eyes widen with surprise, and then she said “Well that makes you look fucked up.”
About a minute later, the bus driver ended his conversation with the other driver and finally pulled up to the bus stop about 15 minutes late. But I wasn’t really upset with his tardiness and the lack of professionalism he had just shown, I was still stoked that I had managed to make the bus on time. All six of us got on the bus, paid our fare and everything seemed fine. I sat just behind the back door on the right side of the bus, the woman who had confronted the driver earlier sat near the front on the left side. I don’t recall where the other four passengers sat down.
The #42 bus drove out of the Forest Hills Bus Station towards Dudley Station. It was completely silent for a few minutes. Then I heard the woman sitting up front say something about being sorry to the bus driver. It was hard for me to hear to the complete dialogue at this point because of where I was sitting. I couldn’t understand a word the bus driver said in reply, but I could hear his very demeaning tone of voice. I was thinking in my head, “Oh gosh, please let them not fight”. I have witnessed arguments between bus drivers and passengers many times before. I just wanted this to be a peaceful bus ride.
The woman sat there shaking her head for a minute and then I heard her clearly say, “I am 46 year old woman, I am too old to be getting into an argument with a grown man.”
Then the bus driver angrily yelled out, “YOU’RE 46 AND WHAT, AND WHAT? AND BLACK?!?”
If you are reading this, you are probably thinking what I was thinking at the exact moment this happened. What in the world provoked him to speak out about the color of her skin? Also, why in the hell is he now yelling? I still don’t really know. He was white, maybe he was racist? Maybe he just had a long day? Even so, with all my pondering, I cannot come up with a valid reason that would make his behavior or his comments acceptable.
I was very shocked at how the woman responded. She didn’t stand up, she didn’t yell, she sternly replied, “Don’t make me call ‘Franchie’ on you”, (meaning the MBTA Franchise). “Let’s just both be quiet.”
“NO!” he yelled. “You’re getting off at the next stop!”
This whole time I desperately didn’t want to get involved in their conversation. I was hoping the situation would somehow fizzle down and we could all get to our destinations in peace, but I couldn’t let him kick her off the bus, not after he had verbally abused her and then made that racist comment. I finally spoke up.
“This is wrong” I said. “If you kick her off this bus, all six of us are going to report you.” I looked around at everyone on the bus. They all had their eyes on me. I then told them, “It’s very easy, you can go on-line or you can call.”
Three women nodded their heads in what appeared to be agreement.
“You want to get kicked off the bus too?” the driver shouted as he turned around to see who was speaking up for the woman.
“Why don’t you just shut up already?” I shouted out in frustration.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed. “You’re getting off my bus!”
A young black woman in front of me, who had remained silent this whole time said, “No. You can’t kick her off the bus too...”
“You want to go with her?” the bus driver threatened.
“No!” she pleaded, “You can’t kick everyone off the bus!”
He turned around again, while still driving, looked at me and said, “I want YOU off the bus! I am going to call the Transit police.”
As soon as he said that, I pulled out my phone and called the Transit Police. He was no longer interested in kicking off the woman he originally yelled at. Now all his anger was being directed towards me. I tried to be brief on the phone. I told them the bus driver had been verbally abusing one of the passengers and then tried to kick her off and now that I had defended her he was kicking me off the bus. They asked if the bus was still moving, I said yes. Then they asked where I was going, I told them Dudley. They said they would have a Transit Police Officer meet me at the station there. I told them thank you and hung up. Right after I hung up the phone, an Asian woman came over and silently handed me a card with name and contact information.
Seconds later, the bus driver started to yell at me again. Let me remind you, after telling him to shut up, I hadn’t said a word to him and I never once got out of my seat. He insisted again that I was getting of his bus. I remained silent. He turned around AGAIN while driving to look at me and shouted, “YOU ARE GETTING OFF THIS BUS NOW!”
The bus driver slammed on his brakes while quickly pulling over to the side of the curb. I was thrown forward and then almost flew sideways out my seat. He then opened both doors and kept yelling and insisting I get off the bus while I remained silent. Three other female passengers were trying their best to calm down the bus driver and defend my right to be on the bus, but he wasn’t having any of it. So I had to call the Transit Police back and let them know the bus had stopped now, and the bus driver was refusing to move the bus. They asked where we were, I told them I had NO idea. The bus driver was looking straight at me, so I looked back at him and asked, “Do you know where we are?” He continued to give me an evil look, but said nothing. The other passengers were shrugging their shoulders as if they didn’t know where he had stopped the bus either. The Transit Police finally said, “Don’t worry. We’ll come find you”.
About two minutes later, a tall black woman with glasses in a normal MBTA Driver’s uniform boarded the bus. She asked the bus driver something, and then proceeded to walk to the back of the bus where I was sitting. She then demanded I get off the bus.
“No” I replied. “I already called the Transit Police and I am waiting for them to get here”.
“They are just going to kick you off when they get here” she snarled.
I stayed silent. She glared at me for a moment, then walked back to the front of the bus, said something to the bus driver, and then got off.
I was shaking from head to toe with adrenaline by this point. The unknown MBTA driver that had just tried to help her buddy kick me off the bus, had approached me with such a threatening demeanor and tone I thought she was going to grab me by my arm, pull me out my seat, and throw me out the door without even a warning. The three women who trying to help defend me earlier could see this I think because they all came and sat near me. They asked if I was okay, they agreed I was doing the right thing, and one woman offered to go all the way to Dudley with me if it made me feel safer. I politely declined.
The Transit Police arrived within ten minutes after that, pretty quick I think. Two white male officers boarded the bus. One of them asked the driver something, and then looked towards the back of the bus. I raised my hand to let them know who they were looking for. They asked me what was going on. I only had a chance to repeat he was verbally assaulting one of the passengers before the younger black woman said, “First he tried to kick her off the bus, then her off the bus, then he threatened to kick me off the bus. He can’t kick us all off the bus.”
They had heard enough and walked back up to the driver. I heard the driver say something about me telling him to shut up. One of the officers yelled in response, “Then you shut up!” The driver continued to complain that I hadn’t apologized, so the officer asked if I would apologize. I said, “Yes, I am sorry I yelled at you. That was wrong”.
“You can’t let the passengers get the better of you”, the officer said to the bus driver. “We are all adults here right?” he asked everyone. I nodded my head yes.
One of the Transit Police Officers told him I was allowed to say on the bus and told him keep driving, then they both of got off. The driver restarted the bus, and we started to move again. No one got kicked off the bus. When the older black woman went to get off at her stop, she thanked me and apologized to the bus driver. I have no idea why should have apologized, but I was really happy to see her take the high road. The Asian woman and the younger black woman both wished me a good day when they got off on their stops. The other three silent passengers remained silent as they got off. I then rode the bus, ALONE, with the bus driver for a few minutes to Dudley Station. It was ultimate the definition of an uncomfortable silence. I apologized again when I got off and said thank you, he obviously said nothing.
I did end up accomplishing my mission that night. I was able to give my friend the coat and shirt. I visited with him for about an hour, but was still visibly shaking with adrenaline the whole night. The “dramatic event” on the bus definitely affected me. The only word I can describe to say how I felt is, shaken. I still will feel nervous every time I take the #42 now, but now I feel a bit empowered to spread my story.
I know there have been many victims of abuse by the MBTA bus drivers before me. I don’t want any to lose their job. I know the economy is tough and people have families to support.
I want the MBTA to take notice and make the drivers think twice before going on a power trip and kicking off passengers without any good reason.