On Wednesday, members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and some Oakland residents gathered at 14th Street and Broadway to protest a rumored ban against strollers on AC Transit buses. About 20 protestors marched down nearby Franklin Street chanting, “One struggle, one fight, we need our buses, it’s our right!” Some pushed their strollers with children in them towards AC Transit’s downtown office to voice their concerns on behalf of passengers who use strollers, and bus drivers who don’t make the proper accommodations for them.
But according to AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson, the agency is not considering a ban on strollers. “We don’t have any intention of banning any wheelchairs, grocery carts or strollers from the bus. Our policy is to let anyone who needs the bus ride the bus,” said Johnson in a phone interview on Wednesday.
The protest was called after Oakland resident Alia Phelps, who is an organizer with ACCE, said she heard from a colleague that during a recent AC Transit board meeting, a board member brought up the topic of people with strollers taking longer to board the bus and delaying buses. (AC Transit Board of Directors vice president Joe Wallace said he had no knowledge of such a comment, and Johnson also could not identify who might have said it.) Phelps said she feared AC Transit would review its current stroller rule and ban strollers from buses altogether.
The group also wants AC Transit to post its stroller rules on all buses. According to AC Transit’s website, the current stroller policy allows passengers to leave their child in a stroller while boarding the bus and allows passengers to ask bus operators to lower the hydraulic ramp used to assist disabled and elderly people in boarding the bus.
“We need it posted on the bus,” said Phelps. “We have a lot of hard times with drivers making up different rules. So we want to know firmly what are the rules, what is the policy that everybody is supposed to be going by. Not the riders go by something, AC Transit goes by something, the drivers go by something different.”
As protesters marched down Franklin Street, some said they feel that some bus drivers are not following protocol because they fail to lower the lift for customers or are unhelpful to parents carrying strollers. “As a mom who sometimes takes the buses, it can be really difficult navigating, getting your child, and your stroller and yourself on the bus. Oftentimes bus drivers, I have to say, have not been that helpful,” said Oakland resident Danielle Mahones.
For Mahones, who carries her 25-pound, 18-month-old son, the combination of riding the bus and lugging a stroller at the same time can be a difficult task. “You are trying to hold the kid, hold the stroller and they’re looking at you like ‘C’mon,’” she said of bus drivers. She said they often do not offer to lower the ramp. “It shouldn’t be a trade secret,” she said. “Oftentimes when you ask them to lower it they really get annoyed.”
After the protest on Wednesday evening, AC Transit staff held a public meeting in their downtown Oakland office to allow protesters to voice their concerns.
Norman Ospina, an Oakland resident and frequent bus rider, spoke about his experience with bus operators and boarding the bus with a stroller. “I don’t want to waste gas, I want to use public transportation. I take pride in only having to pay $80 for my Clipper card per month,” said Ospina. “But when we’re treated like we’re just stepping in people’s ways and taking up people’s time, that is a job of an operator—stop, say, ‘Hello, do you need me to bring this ramp down?’”
“Here’s this 41-year-old man struggling with his child and the bus operator did nothing. That’s unacceptable,” said Opsina, describing an incident he experienced while trying to board a bus with a stroller and backpack in hand.
During the meeting, AC Transit staffers—including personnel managers, training managers, and planning and development mangers—were in attendance and informed protestors that the agency would look into better training methods to make sure every bus operator is aware of the current policy. They told protestors to call 511, a Bay Area transit information hotline, to report a bus driver who is not complying.
AC Transit staffers also informed protestors that the agency had already sent out notifications to bus drivers to remind them of the current policy.
The idea of putting stroller policy signs on buses could be brought in front of the AC Transit board later this year or early next year, according to AC Transit chief operating officer James Pachman, who informed protestors of the potential move during the meeting.
“I understand there are some issues with the operators that you guys have identified,” said Pachman during the meeting. He said the agency would work to identify those issues and “try to get out operators to where additional training can ultimately resolve some of the situations.”
According to Pachman, in the coming months AC Transit will look at stroller policies at other transit agencies across the region and in other states to see how their current policy compares to them.
Some of Wednesday’s protestors said they are happy with the current policy and just want to make sure it is enforced across the board. “I also saw what they have written online and it looks pretty good,” said Lindsay Imani, an Oakland resident and frequent bus rider who attended the protest. “I think the key is making sure that it is consistently enforced and making it clear that parents know what their rights are.”