SEATTLE — Only KIRO 7 has obtained surveillance videos that show King County Metro buses can be dangerous for disabled passengers.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act no disabled individual should ever face discrimination by a public entity. However, some disabled bus riders claim they are being discriminated against – on a regular basis -- onboard King County Metro coaches.
KIRO 7 filed a Public Disclosure Request for access to all complaints filed with King County since 2009 that allege injuries suffered by riders and drivers. We noticed 51 injuries to disabled riders while on-board Metro buses. KIRO 7 then requested any bus surveillance video that captured those incidents.
One rider broke a leg in 2017 when his wheelchair suddenly lurched forward on the Rapid Ride A Line in SeaTac. The Kent man filed a complaint with King County Metro that includes an X-ray of his fractured leg and alleges the coach driver "stopped abruptly ... causing his leg to hit the seat in front of him." In surveillance video KIRO 7 received of the incident, the man tells the driver, “I broke my leg.” He hired a lawyer and has filed a claim for damages that is still pending.
Severe injuries were also suffered by a daily Metro rider with cerebral palsy whose arm was trapped when a bus door closed on it in 2013. As a result, the Bellevue computer programmer "was pulled under the bus and run over by one or more of the bus tires," according to the complaint she filed with King County. The woman eventually received a $3.85 million settlement.
Surveillance video also shows a disabled veteran violently thrown out of his wheelchair to the floor of a bus, allegedly because the driver “braked too hard.”
Another rider suffered a head injury when her wheelchair suddenly toppled over.
In many of the videos and complaints obtained by KIRO 7, passengers often place blame on Metro coach operators for not securing their wheelchairs properly, writing "the transit operator incorrectly secured the mobility device," and "the driver failed to properly secure my scooter in place."
In one of the surveillance videos, a woman who uses an electric scooter can be heard telling a bus driver, “you don’t have me secure.” The driver responds, “no, I got you secure.” Moments later, when the bus turned a corner, “the scooter toppled over on top of me as my head and knees hit the floor,” according to the woman’s complaint.
Nannette Tremoulet also believes a Metro driver on the F Line did not strap in her motorized wheelchair completely, causing her to fall and become trapped under the bench across the bus aisle.
“The driver had strapped me on two of the four transportation posts,” Tremoulet explained in a recent interview with KIRO 7. “Only the two outside had been secured, allowing me to tip over.”
Surveillance video of the 2017 incident shows Tremoulet asking the driver after her fall “Did you strap me down here?” The driver responds, “I locked you back there.”
A similar incident happened to Abdoulie Corr, who fell from his wheelchair in June of 2016. In the surveillance video, Corr falls forward, hitting his head. A witness asks him, “Are you OK, man?”
According to the complaint Corr filed with King County Metro, the driver "did not strap my wheelchair to the bus properly."
Corr recently told KIRO 7 that the process of boarding a bus while in a wheelchair is “rush, rush, rush. Sometimes you get one hook (fastened on your chair) sometimes you get two.”
“Sometimes you get none,” Corr added.
Corr's legs were injured and his toes were broken because of his fall. The Seattle man filed a complaint with King County alleging negligence on the part of the driver and also hired lawyer Cleodis Floyd of Seattle.
“I just want people to be aware of what’s happening to people with disabilities on Metro buses,” Floyd told KIRO 7. Every time Corr gets on a Metro bus now, he thinks, 'Am I strapped-in properly? Am I secure? And what happens if I’m not? Am I going to hurt someone else?'” Floyd explained.
Corr has filed a civil complaint against Metro and the driver, which is still pending.
Despite the injuries and 51 complaints filed with King County Metro, the system’s deputy general manger is “extremely confident” his bus operators are routinely securing disabled passengers properly. Terry White said he recognizes “there are going to be mistakes made and occasionally there may be lapses, but on the whole, I would say that our operators are doing an excellent job.”
According to White, bus operators are responsible for properly securing wheelchairs and mobility devices. He also said, that when a passenger is not properly secured, the bus operator faces retraining and possible termination if there are multiple complaints.
White would not reveal what discipline -- if any -- the drivers in the videos obtained by KIRO 7 may have faced “but on the whole, I would say, 99-plus percent of our operators are doing an incredible job. They are very customer service-oriented.”
Kyann Flint works for Bellingham-based Abilitrek a company that helps businesses comply with ADA requirements.
“I have not been properly-secured in many different cities,” she recently told KIRO 7.
Daman Wandke is Abilitrek’s CEO and founder. Both Wandke and Flint say they often experience discrimination onboard public transportation.
“When taking a bus, I’m always nervous that the driver won’t be open to tying me down,” Wandke said.
“Even though there are federal policies that do mandate that people who use wheelchairs are supposed to be strapped down properly, it’s still not occurring,” Flint said. “There are supposed to be four tied-downs that secure a wheelchair so it moves less than two inches in each direction.”
Michael Ford -- who is permanently disabled and uses a cane -- believes King County Metro doesn't really want disabled riders onboard “because we take time,” he said.
Ford has submitted multiple complaints via phone and email to King County Metro because of one driver in particular, whom he claims injured his wrist when she refused to wait until he'd been seated before accelerating.
“I’m a senior citizen and I’m also disabled and I’ve asked for their ADA department to contact me and have not had anybody respond,” Ford said. He believes Metro is “disrespectful” to people with disabilities because “they don’t want seniors, they don’t want the disabled because we’re wasting their time.”
“We’re not welcome,” according to Ford.
According to Nannette Tremoulet, simply boarding a bus often leads to open discrimination by other passengers as soon as the wheelchair ramp is deployed. “You can hear an exhalation of 'ohhhhhh' by the riders because now you’re delayed.”
She knows the bus is “accessible to everyone but the general consensus, as a disabled rider is ‘Yes, I’m going to make you wait.’”
“I feel like a bother,” she added.
Abdoulie Corr said drivers, too, seem frustrated by the disabled.
“I think they’re trying to make their time, so they’re trying to rush, so you become a delayer in their route.”
All disabled riders interviewed by KIRO 7 asked for compassion from Metro, its drivers and other passengers.
“I know it’s frustrating” for bus passengers to be delayed, Corr acknowledged. “Everybody wants to go home, but sometimes we also have important things that we are doing. We want to be part of the community, too.”
“Treat everybody like you would want to be treated,” Wandke requested. “We’re all trying to get from Point A to Point B.”
Metro's deputy GM asked for the same compassion.
“Mobility is the key to all opportunities,” White said. “I just ask for all of the community – that’s customers and operators – to be patient in these situations. Everybody deserves the opportunity to move and thrive in life.”
© 2020 Cox Media Group