We Will Ride

By Nadina LaSpina

The old battle cry "We Will Ride" is being shouted and chanted once again on the streets of New York City.

Just when we thought we didn't have to worry anymore because buses in NYC were 100% accessible, when we started taking for granted we could catch the next bus to work, to school, to the meeting or the demo, that's when it happened.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) purchased 167 new buses with shiny wheelchair lifts, which, I'm sure, looked great in the brochure, but when we tried to use them, just didn't work. Instead of returning the buses to the manufacturer demanding the lifts be fixed or replaced, or, better still, asking for the taxpayers' money back (36 million tax dollars), the MTA decided to keep the buses and to keep them in service. After all, they reasoned, it's not like the front door doesn't work? Everybody also can get on the bus, so what if wheelchair users can't? So what if this is a flagrant violation of the ADA?

The lifts will be fixed, they promised us. The lifts are being fixed, they assured us. At first we were patient, but when this discriminatory situation went on for a year, and winter arrived, we lost our patience. We got sick and tired of being left out in the cold, waiting for a bus, while one, two and sometimes even three of these new buses with non-working lifts went by. We got very angry watching everyone also get on the bus while we sat and froze our butt. So we started getting in front of the buses, stopping the buses on the streets: "if we can't get on this bus, no one also can!". We started demonstrating: on January 27 about 30 of us protested in front of the MTA while they held their annual board meeting. And we started raising hell: in Brooklyn a dozen of us managed to block a major avenue, forcing police to re-route all rush hour traffic. We've been getting lots of media attention and this has made the MTA very very nervous.

So, now they're telling us all the lifts have been fixed. What could not be done in a year, got done in one month. We're flattered, but we're also somewhat suspicious. Though all the lifts are in operation, they don't always operate well enough. We've had reports of people getting stuck on the new lifts. So we're going to have to watch very carefully, the fight may not be over. But we've learned a very important lesson: we can't relax just because we've won a battle; our rights are fragile, we must always be vigilant if we don't want to lose what we fought so hard to gain.