TransLink is investigating complaints from a local high school student with cerebral palsy who says buses aren’t picking him up because he’s in a wheelchair.
Brenden Parker, a Grade 12 student at Clayton Heights Secondary, says twice in recent weeks the bus has stopped at the stop across from his school, only to shut the doors and drive off without him after picking up other passengers.
The latest incident happened on Oct. 3, when Parker, educational assistant Terry England, and another student were waiting for the C70, a route served by a wheelchair-accessible bus equipped with a lift. They were on their way to the Willowbrook Mall in Langley, where Parker and the other student were expected for their work placement assignments. They are raising money for the food bank as part of the Fare Fight for Food campaign and take the community shuttle several times a week.
The driver that morning stopped at the bus stop, let a fourth passenger aboard, only to shut the doors and drive off, leaving Parker, England and the other student with their mouths hanging open in shock.
“The three of us stood there, looking at each other, stunned,” he said.
The students missed their work placement appointment, but the incident was the last straw for Parker, who says he’s angry and looking for answers. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, he says.
When the bus came back half an hour later on its return trip, Parker, England and teacher Sheri Montgomery were there to confront the driver, who offered excuses, including that he did not see them waiting, according to Parker, who remains skeptical, as does England, who stands 6 foot 3.
“Isn’t that your job?” England wondered. “I kind of vented at the guy.”
The same thing happened a couple of weeks ago, according to Montgomery, BASES department head at Clayton Heights, who immediately complained to TransLink, but never heard back.
So when the bus left Parker on the curbside again, they decided to contact local media in hopes of getting answers.
Last Friday, a supervisor from the Surrey Transit Centre went to the school to take a statement, promising to look into Parker’s complaints.
TransLink spokesperson Derek Zabel confirmed a Sept. 21 complaint from the school was not followed up on.
“We did drop the ball on that,” Zabel said. “Normally, a complaint like this, we would consider priority one” and should have received a response within 48 hours.
“That didn’t happen in this case,” he said.
Now that the transit centre official has met with Parker, the next step will be to interview the bus driver as part of the investigation.
“Any serious incident deemed by the employer could result in serious consequences,” Zabel added.
Customers can file complaints through TransLink’s customer relations department.
“People with mobility issues – we take that as a priority one complaint and we do investigate that right away.”
Parker, meanwhile, says the situation has been going on for the past five years.
He says he and other classmates in wheelchairs have been passed up by the big buses, too.
Parker, a slightly-built boy with light brown eyes, laughs when he’s nervous, so a bright, sunny smile doesn’t necessarily mean all is well.
It’s obviously frustrating and disappointing to be passed by when passengers who aren’t in wheelchairs are able to board without incident.
“I always make eye contact with the drivers when I’m waiting, to make sure they see me,” he told The Reporter during the trip to the bus stop the following morning.
When the bus arrived at 9:15 a.m., Parker was able to board, a process that does take several minutes.
The driver climbed out of his seat, walked around to the back doors of the shuttle, and operated the lift once Parker’s wheelchair had been moved into place.
The extra time it takes for passengers in wheelchairs to board is factored in, according to Zabel, who said if an operator has a route with a lot of wheelchair customers “then the bus runs late.”
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, “We won’t be letting these incidents slide,” says Parker’s teacher, Sheri Montgomery.
“If it happens here, it happens elsewhere,” she added.