How safe is public transportation?
By Isabel Suarez
I ride the bus daily because I lost my license, and need to get to work. Unfortunately, it is not the experience I remember as a young man. Years ago, our parents would allow my friends and I to ride downtown and eat lunch. Given my daily bus experience, I cannot allow my 14- and 16-year-old children to ride the bus alone. What is the use of having public transportation if so often it is not only unpleasant, but we fear for our safety? Are there any repercussions for these disruptive riders? Are there any guidelines that we as riders should follow when altercations arise?
Public transportation is not only necessary for those people who cannot, or wish not to use their cars; after all, we are paying for it. More importantly, as gas prices keep rising, we are going to have to buck up and depend upon public transportation. It is not only a question of economics, but there are also environmental concerns of too many cars on the road.
Unfortunately, your issues are shared by many who ride the bus. Verbal and physical altercations are beyond the comfort level of many people, preventing them from using the services. The RTA has an established protocol, which includes a customer service team where you can voice your concerns. Any complaints and concerns should be reported to the RTA by calling (937) 425-8300, or visiting their website, www.i-riderta.org.
However, this does little to diffuse the situation in progress. Generally, the RTA discourages citizens from personally getting involved when the altercation can potentially put them in harm’s way. Bus drivers are trained, not only to intervene if necessary, but to call for backup and be on the lookout for escalating situations. Obviously, it is in no one’s interest to engage in vigilantism, but like you, many riders have and should, at the very least, call 911 when a situation is clearly beyond the control of the driver. This is just common sense and good citizenship.
Many passengers are reluctant to get involved for fear of being civilly sued. Fortunately, the Good Samaritan concept was codified by the Ohio legislature under 2305.23. Unfortunately, it only applies when a citizen provides help to an injured individual. A person must exercise extreme caution when infusing themselves into a potentially explosive situation. The RTA is required to train their bus drivers to handle safety and security issues. This is reinforced by the Federal Transit Administration, who provides funding, and safety protocol.
Please do not think that the RTA is not aware that we face a real problem. If passengers do not feel safe, there is little hope to improve and expand routes. Legally, offenders can, and are, criminally prosecuted for disruptive behavior, either on the bus or on the bus stop hubs. The criminal repercussions usually come by way of trespassing these individuals from using the RTA buses. Once they are trespassed (and they often are), they are charged with criminal trespassing, which is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. This charge carries with it a maximum penalty of $250 and/or 30 days in jail. Unfortunately, in Miami Valley, it has become a real problem in the downtown and other major hubs, where individuals often trespass for drug activity and other disruptive behavior. As much as we may not like the government infringing on our rights, it has become necessary to legislate morality to protect the general citizenry.
While we do not want to lose our individual rights, ultimately we have no choice. If citizens cannot, or will not, abide by what should be very simple rules of civility, something must be done. In this case, the question is how to balance the need to encourage the use of public transportation while keeping riders safe.
My suggestion is to report incidents to the RTA. Public transportation has to be the way of the future. We can no longer pretend that our gas consumption is anything but reprehensible. As a community, we must come together and be part of the solution. Clearly, we must expand public transportation, making it more reliable, accessible and safe. If other countries can do it, why not us?
Legal disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and informative purposes only, and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk and are advised to seek an attorney if legal consultation is needed. The accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed as laws are subject to change. Neither the author, the Dayton City Paper, nor any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.
Isabel Suarez is a Cuban-born American who has been practicing law since 1984. Her diverse multicultural and multilingual practice Suarez & Carlin in Old North Dayton especially serves the regions working poor. Isabel is also a board member of and volunteer for the Ohio Intervention Program. You can reach Isabel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office located at 765 Troy St. in Dayton at (937) 258-1800.