Bad craziness on IndyGo -- but New York works

Dateline: Thu 18 Oct 2007

Believe it: New York City has got its act together when it comes to street civilization.

Taxi drivers, cops at Penn Station, Red Caps, hotel staff, Macy's clerks, Lindy's waiters, Japanese booksellers, street vendors -- everybody I encountered during four days there was a total sweetheart. And polite. In some instances, exquisitely so. "It's a holiday," explained a taxi driver, who began talking, eerily, about Muslims, after I asked him about pigeons. (I'm not saying the King's English is the order of the day, just that people are nice).

He amplified: "Thirty percent of taxi drivers in New York are Muslim now. They got the day off (for Ramadan). So the rest of us are real busy, picking up the slack."

Thank you, sir. Next time, however, do tell me about the pigeons.

So how can the Big One make so nice when little Indianapolis, in the hospitable heartland, struggles with something as basic as bus manners? To the point that violence was threatening to bust out at any minute on IndyGo Route 14 Sunday night?

We may not have 8 million stories in the Hoosier city, but we've got 800,000 -- and this is one of them. Read it and wail. And please, IndyGo CEO Gilbert Holmes, take action.

A friend, middle-aged, white, female, boarded the Raymond/Emerson bus, also known as No. 14, about 9:20 p.m. Downtown. A few blocks into the ride, she reports, the bus driver, female and black, started ragging on a man and a woman at the back of the bus. His crime? He was eating a chicken sandwich.

"From the very beginning," reports my friend, speaking of the driver, "her tone was unnecessarily harsh and demeaning."

The driver had backup: an apparent friend of hers, a passenger sitting up front, joined in and started trash-talking the chicken sandwich guy. Indy being the small town it is, it turns out the bus driver buddy and chicken sandwich man knew each other (all the players are black). First names were used. Insults flew. Bus driver woman was in the thick of it, getting on the speaker system and threatening to eject the chicken sandwich man and his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, my friend and other passengers were cowering. Says my pal, " was clear to me we were in a situation that was going to escalate to physical violence. All I could think was, I hope that guy in the back doesn't have a gun, because we're going to end up dead."

It gets worse.

Chicken sandwich guy and his girlfriend announce they want off the bus. They "sauntered to the front," then CSG, no angel he, took a poke at bus driver's buddy, hitting his head so hard against the window that the buddy's glasses went flying.

The two men then ran off the bus to continue the fight. Believe it or not, the bus driver actually got off (!!!) and joined in the fray (!!!!). Meanwhile, passengers were frantically dialing 911 on their cell phones, but nobody, surprise, surprise, could get thru.

Finally, the bus driver returned to her station and called someone -- IndyGo? The cops? Her buddy meanwhile also hopped on the bus, while chicken sandwich guy and girlfriend vanished into the night. The driver, as she was reporting the incident, did not even know what street she was on: she had to ask passengers.

A few blocks later, a cop pulled the bus over and talked to the driver. After that, the driver continued until Virginia Avenue where an IndyGo supervisor stopped the bus.

All the passengers were given report forms to fill out. The bus driver and her supervisor had a "lively conversation" off the bus, says my friend. The bus driver's buddy was ordered off the bus by the supervisor.

What my friend wrote on her report form? "CALL ME."

"A 10-15 minute ride turned into a 30-minute nightmare. Stepping out of that bus was like stepping away from madness," she concluded.

I know, this is a small slice of life. And to IndyGo's credit, my friend reports that overall, IndyGo drivers are excellent.

But this driver, she thinks, is a new hire and a nut job -- unsafe at any speed.

Meanwhile, the larger issue: It used to be said that one judged a civilization by how it treats its dead. Today, I suggest, maybe it is how we treat our public transportation system and those passengers. In which case, IndyGo needs to get on the stick and thoroughly investigate this incident -- and, as I said before, take action. This should never happen again.

Your thoughts?


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