Solid Ground’s Transportation Department operates Seattle Personal Transit (SPT), one of King County Metro ACCESS program’s subcontractors. To catch a glimpse into a day in the life of SPT ACCESS drivers, we spent an afternoon talking with drivers and passengers as we rode along on a Metro ACCESS van, then featured the story in our June 2012 Groundviews Newsletter.
They are our family
Every rider has a story, as does every driver. But when riding the regular King County Metro bus system, it’s easy to remain anonymous – to blend in with all of the other riders and slip away when you get where you’re going. No one has to know your name. Riding on a Metro ACCESS van is a different story. Your name and destination are known – necessary information for the driver.
And when you rely on a wheelchair or walker to get around, support from your driver can be critically important. Fortunately for ACCESS riders, SPT drivers are not only thoroughly trained in safety procedures for assisting passengers living with disabilities, they also show a deep respect for the people they serve. As one SPT driver, Mohammed, says of riders, “They are our family.”
So on an overcast spring afternoon, we ride along with driver Roland Remolana to get a sense of the SPT experience. As we hit the road, Roland turns on the radio to a 60s/70s station – the soundtrack backdrop for the day.
♪ ‘What becomes of the brokenhearted…’ ♪♫
Although this is his first day on a new route, Roland greets all passengers warmly, as if they have previously met. His face lights up as he says, “I love my job. I love to meet different people every day – talk to them.”
Roland assists the first passenger of the afternoon, Mr. Moore, who is in a wheelchair. Using the lift, he raises Mr. Moore – still sitting in his chair – onto the van, helps him walk to a window seat, then secures the wheelchair in place. Mr. Moore gazes out the window. He’s headed home, where he lives alone, after a long dialysis treatment.
A lifetime ago, in 1947, he moved to Seattle from NYC. When an old Motown tune comes on the radio, he taps his toe and sings along in a surprisingly clear baritone for his age. For the past three years, he says, he has spent “half my life” on dialysis – three times a week for four hours at a time.
In fact, the majority of the riders we meet are also on dialysis. Rogelia, a slight, cheerful woman with perfectly coiffed hair, has received treatments (and SPT ACCESS rides) for about six months. “I’m new,” she says. She describes the difference between Metro bus and ACCESS rides: “Oh, the regular bus, it takes time to wait. So this is more convenient – as long as they don’t pick up somebody!” she jokes – but often, she’s the only passenger. “It’s comfortable.” And of the drivers, she says, “They are all nice. They are very helpful. When I go to the dialysis, I have to be there on time. When we miss, they have to set up again the machine for the next person.”
SPT driver Keith Dewey says, “You appreciate your health when you realize all the things people have to deal with and they don’t complain. A lot of them don’t want any help. They want to assert their independence, want to feel as independent as possible.”
♪ ‘And I ain’t got no worries, ‘cause I ain’t in no hurry at all…’ ♪♫
Roland quickly assesses each passenger’s need for assistance. In the International District, a young Filipina woman with a cane climbs on the van without Roland’s help. Tagalog is his first language, so they chat quietly while he stands by – not intervening – to make sure she secures her seatbelt safely before he gets back in the driver’s seat. At her home in Skyway, he walks at her side all the way up a long ramp to her door. He takes the necessary time to meet each rider’s individual needs.
When a woman boards in a wheelchair and chooses to stay seated in it, Roland patiently secures both her and the chair in place, and triple checks the six-strap system. He says, “It’s easy to put in there, like two minutes, if you know how to do it!” Then, he goes back to her home for a pillow to prop up her arm and make her more comfortable.
At the Spiritual Miracles Food Bank in Skyway, a passenger wants to board with a full grocery cart and two loose boxes balanced on top, which is against Metro’s safety rules. Roland radios in to check with his supervisor for permission first, then straps down the boxes in an empty seat. He jokes with the passenger that her very light box is heavy. She tells us, “I volunteer at the food bank,” explaining that she gets extra food to share with her co-residents in senior housing.
After she gets off, Roland says that if the boxes had been too heavy to secure, he would have had to call his route supervisor to come pick her up in a smaller van. He points to where he belted her boxes onto a seat. “See, it worked! I just strapped the box. I’d feel bad if I left, ‘cause she needs that food, you know?”
♪ ‘We’re on the road to nowhere…’ ♪♫
Roland’s route in a single afternoon winds from Capitol Hill to Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, the International District, Skyway, South Lake Washington and Magnolia, and finally ends in Burien. He pilots the van through tight neighborhood roads, brutally torn up streets, odd-shaped cul-de-sacs.
He is the epitome of focus, whether navigating cavernous potholes or chatting with a rider while he secures her wheelchair. Roland is part technician, part case manager, and a safe driver. As dispatch calls in new pickups, he patiently handles route changes. On this day, he worked an 11-hour shift, with little time for adequate breaks. It’s a challenging job.
Roland admits, “It’s hard for the ACCESS drivers. Sometimes they’re gonna throw you in Shoreline, then go to Bothell.” He jokes, “I’m thinking, ‘Do you think I can fly?’ But he is humble: “I’m not a perfect driver, but I love everybody. Sometimes people yell at the drivers. Then I talk to them; they start laughing.” In the few short hours we spent with Roland, he certainly did leave all of his passengers smiling. ●
For more information on Seattle Personal Transit (SPT) and Metro ACCESS, visit: www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Transportation/Transit.