Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rolling with the Buses

Two things you really don't want in Rio de Janeiro:

A) To need an ambulance during rush hour
B) To be handicapped and require public transportation

Someday, I'll write about that first one. But today, I'd like to talk about item B. A few posts back, I put up pictures of our excellent Barra sidewalks. I was meaning to write about an experience I had the other day, but kept forgetting.

Plenty of the buses in Rio offer handicapped-accessible buses. In theory. In reality, they just have two exits and a big space in the middle of the bus without seats where commuters pack in, thankful to at least not be hanging on in the middle of the aisle as the bus goes lurching by. In 6 years, I'd never actually seen anyone in a wheelchair actually try to get on a bus. Now I know why.

First of all, the number of wheelchair-friendly buses on any one line is probably miniscule. So unless you have the phone number of the assigned bus driver and know where they are on their route, I imagine it's a pretty LONG wait at the bus stop unless luck is on your side.

But, let's say luck IS on your side, like the woman sporting one leg and an ancient wheelchair (we'll call her Patience) and a really, really good attitude (all things considered) that flagged down my bus the other week.

She flagged the bus near the pedestrian overpass. Because of traffic congestion and the funky curves of the sidewalk, the bus driver kept inching up every time she approached. To a passive observer, it appeared as if the bus driver was being purposely cruel. When her assistant pushed her up to the bus door, the bus crept ahead about five feet. This went on for two whole minutes! Eventually, he was able to make contact between the sidewalk and the wheels.

Patience's assistant was actually just a kind stranger; he left her in the hands of the skinny bus driver, who pressed buttons and jiggled the lift controls. Which, of course, aren't working. Muttering from the other passengers, combined with sympathetic laughter at the absurdity of the situation, filled the bus. The driver shrugged and the woman sighed. My seatmate, a much burlier man, got up. Patience had by this time gotten out of her wheelchair and was sitting on the filthy steps of the bus (it had rained earlier in the week). My seatmate grabbed her by the armpits and manhandled/helped her to the fold-down seat by the wheelchair bay. From this vantage point, she tried to give directions to the bus driver and pedestrians who were trying to fold her wheelchair.

It didn't fit through the bus door.

They finally managed it, and my seatmate tries to put the unfolded wheelchair into the bay so Patience can sit down. Besides pulling parts of the armrests off, he's unable to do this effectively because THERE ISN'T ENOUGH ROOM for a wheelchair in the logical position facing the door (since that's how she would have entered the bus if the lift had worked and there isn't much maneuvering room in the aisle). The wheelchair has to sit facing forward, like the rest of the bus seats.

Poor Patience. She is THE center of attention at this point, and commuters are wondering if they should suck it up and pay a second fare on a different bus so they arrive at their destination on time. Because this comedy of errors isn't complete.

There's still the seatbelt.

Which, yes, you guessed it...doesn't work. The bus driver, obviously not used to this situation, tries to lace the seatbelt straps through the spokes on her wheelchair. I imagine this will have disastrous results: if he brakes suddenly, there's a real chance of twisting the spokes, not to mention the fact that Patience is yet again forced to be completely dependent on strangers in order to extricate herself from the seatbelt.

Through the 15 minute ordeal, Patience herself is cheery, resigned and uncomplaining, which means one of either two things:

1) She's a genuinely nice person, maybe too nice.
2) She's been through this MANY times before and has exhausted her getting-upset energies.

I'm afraid it's probably more the latter than the first and shudder to imagine the Paralympic Games here in 2016.


anne said...

wonder if anyone has THOUGHT about the games? Para or otherwise, if you have heaps of folks visiting the country for the games, you need to be able to have access for all....


Catherine Denton said...

Wow, poor Patience. I could learn from her.
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