The Technical Side

The public transit system for Santa Clara County, California. It covers all of Santa Clara County, and additionally provides service to get to and from the transit systems in San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Cruz.

Its services include buses, light rail, free shuttles, and paratransit. The buses run throughout the county, with a few commuter buses that go from county to county. The light rail operates in downtown San Jose. The free shuttles go from the light rail station or Santa Clara Caltrain station to San Jose International Airport, to the Compaq Center, to popular job destinations (like Lockheed), and between selected locations in downtown San Jose. You have to qualify and sign up for paratransit service, which the VTA website claims services the whole county. The website also claims that you have to call them in order to find out if your area is serviced.

The Personal Side

I had no trouble riding the VTA until I started using their bus system from a wheelchair. They claim to be wheelchair accessible. I've met one driver who wasn't annoyed to pick me up, and no drivers who would use the wheelchair restraint and seatbelt system properly. I have not yet had this problem while visiting the neighboring Santa Cruz County, where they're less rushed and more aware of safety standards.

Here's a representative story of a bus ride on the VTA:

I board the bus through the lift, and begin typing my destination to the driver on my speech synthesizer. He interrupts to tell me to hurry up and get in. I cease typing and back my chair into the designated area, where the back right wheel enters a clamp that secures it to the side of the bus. I ask the driver to use the proper restraint system. He either can't hear or ignores me. I grit my teeth, put on the brakes, and settle in for a strategic exercise in not flying out of the chair every time it thrashes back and forth -- which is often.

It finally dawns on the driver that I've never told him where I'm getting off. I hear "Sir?" but don't know who he's talking to. I hear "Sir?" Damn. He's looking straight at me.

"What?" I type, at the loudest volume setting. I repeat it a few times. He doesn't hear me. "He says what!" yells a passenger next to me.

The driver turns around. "You never told me where you were getting off!"

I repeat the process, telling him I'm getting off on Stevens Creek Boulevard near De Anza College. The guy next to me relays this information to the driver.

The driver glares. "You should've told me that when you got on!"

I type, "I tried that, but you didn't let me." The guy next to me grins but doesn't relay it to the driver.

At my destination, the driver doesn't make any moves to release my back wheel from the clamp. More yelling ensues. The driver releases the clamp, lecturing me about how I should always board rapidly and tell him immediately where I'm going. After I get off, I board another bus. This time, the lift works fine while I'm getting on but is broken by the time I get off. Such is a fairly typical day riding the VTA in a wheelchair, and the reason I roll most places on my own these days.

Moral: If you are disabled and ride the VTA from a wheelchair, make sure your disability doesn't prevent you from being fast, coordinated enough not to fall out of a thrashing wheelchair, agile enough to navigate tilted ground, and capable of talking rapidly and loudly.

Technical information in this writeup comes from

Personal information in this writeup comes from riding VTA buses too many times.

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