Rosa Parks fought for a seat on the bus. Now city bus drivers are fighting for another seat: A toilet seat.
So reported public bus drivers and transit union representatives at a press conference in support of transportation equity, including for those who sit for hours on end behind the wheel.
Bathroom access for bus drivers was one of dozens of calls for improvements to the public bus system made Monday during New Haven’s second annual Transit Equity Day celebrations.
Marking the 116th birthday of the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks, New Haven bus drivers, bus riders, environmental activists, and civil rights leaders gathered at the corner of Chapel Street and Church Street to call for frequent, reliable bus service that treats users and operators with respect.
Ralph Buccitti, a bus driver and business agent with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 281, said that today’s greatest civil rights concern for public bus drivers is lack of reliable access to restrooms.
“She fought for a right to have a seat on the bus,” Buccitti said about Rosa Parks. “Well, there’s a fight today for bus operators. They’re also fighting for a seat. They’re fighting for a toilet seat. Bathroom access for bus operators is nonexistent.”
Buccitti said that Connecticut Transit, which operates the state’s public buses and is a division of the state Department of Transportation (DOT), provides a list to bus drivers that identifies bathroom sites along each bus route.
“But they don’t own or control those bathrooms,” he said.
He called on the state, municipalities, and bus riders to heed bus drivers’ concerns about bathroom access.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go.”
Kevin Nursick, a spokesperson for the state DOT, confirmed that Connecticut Transit does keep a list of bathroom locations along bus routes. “An operator’s request would never be denied unless there is a safety concern,” he told the Independent. “CTTransit has created a ‘Bathroom Committee’ at each Division comprised of management, union leadership, and bus operators to review bathroom availability and work cooperatively to resolve any issues.”
On a commemorative Transit Equity Day bus ride through downtown, Dwight, and Newhallville, public bus driver veterans Eddie Funaro and Al Barnes agreed with the urgency of Buccitti’s call.
“We have a big bathroom issue,” said Funaro, a recently retired bus operator who drove every city route during his 31 years on the job, and who is currently the recording secretary for the bus drivers union.
During his years on the job, he said, he’s had to keep a mental map of nearby McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in case he ever had to go while on the job.
He said the state DOT should contract with some entity, whether public or private, that can provide some kind of consistent, reliable access to bathrooms at regular intervals along each bus route.
“We want it built in,” he said.
Built into the routes, that is. Not into the bus.
“What we desperately need are bathrooms,” said Barnes, who has driven public buses in New Haven for 29 years.
Another constituency represented at New Haven’s Transit Equity Day were the city’s homeless and formerly incarcerated.
Amity native Roger X said he just returned to New Haven in December 2018 after spending two years in prison. He attends reentry programs at Catholic Charities on Grand Avenue and the Alternative Incarceration Center on Chapel Street. He said he regularly goes to the Dixwell Avenue Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, as well as a soup kitchen in Hamden.
He always rides the bus, he said, and yet he always struggles to pay for fare. He said that many reentry services promise free bus passes for those who attend their programs, but that they rarely deliver on the actual passes.
“I travel all day, just about every day, on the bus,” he said. He said the state and reentry programs should work closely together to ensure that the recently released have easy access to public transit.
Charles Brown, who won a free 10-trip bus pass during a Transit Equity Day raffle, said he too is homeless, and that he practically lives on the bus, travelling up and down Dixwell Avenue, Congress Avenue, and elsewhere just to stay warm during the day.
“Stop overcrowding the bus,” he said when asked what would make riding the bus a better experience for him. He said the Dixwell Avenue bus in particular is usually so crowded on weekdays he can hardly move. He called for more frequent service so that fewer people have to cram on each bus.
New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell suggested that the state partner with local reentry services like Project MORE to allow recently released individuals access to something like a U-PASS, which the state college system uses to provide free, unlimited public transit use for students.
“We need to develop a universal transportation system,” she said.
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch part of Monday’s Transit Equity Day presser.