Bus driver kicks off woman with crying baby; passengers leave too
No, actually. Babies are notorious for crying as long as they feel like it; adults are known by psychologists to hate the sound of crying babies more than just about any other sound there is; and well, there you are.
It's an age-old dilemma, and its very familiarity may account for the way in which an incident last week on Oregon TriMet's Bus No. 57 has become an international cause célèbre. It is the story of two dozen passengers, more or less, a baby in a bad mood, and a bus that motored through its own terrible little Twilight Zone on the 16 miles from Beaverton to Forest Grove.
The trip ended only when the bus came to a halt, the baby and mom were ordered off the bus, the passengers protested in her defense, the driver suggested they could leave too if they didn't like it, and everybody did.
Oregon has talked about little else for days. Hundreds of comments have come in from around the world to newspapers and television websites, with people weighing in on behalf of beleaguered mothers, overstressed bus drivers, abused passengers, tired babies -- the whole unhappy mix of humanity thrown together on buses so often it's a wonder only the babies actually cry.
The baby, the driver said, started howling in Beaverton.
A mother herself, the driver apparently stopped the bus near the Hillsboro Transit Center and went back to talk to the woman, who had been futilely cradling and cooing to the 2-year-old. The mother spoke little English, and didn't seem to understand when the driver suggested she get some keys or something for the child to play with.
Other passengers started getting impatient, according to accounts filed on various blogs and news reports, and yelled at the driver to get moving, that the baby wasn't bothering them.
"More than a few delved into obscene name calling toward the driver," one passenger, who wrote in anonymously, reported on a local bus driver's blog, Rantings of a Trimet Bus Driver. "The driver then compounded the whole thing by spitting heatedly that anyone who didn't like it could get off the bus as well."
The mother, apparently embarrassed at the fuss she was causing and understanding little of what was being said, got off the bus with the baby.
The bus driver radioed in to dispatch. "I have four or five of them calling me a [expletive]. I had a screaming child on my bus, she has been screaming since I left Beaverton, I tried to calm her down and she called her husband and she got off so you know what, I am parked," she said, according to a radio transcript posted by the drivers' blog.
The passengers weren't about to let it go there, though. Jennifer Chapman, a graduate student in early childhood special education, challenged the driver.
"I said 'You can’t kick a woman and her baby off at night in the middle of Hillsboro,' " Chapman told KOIN TV in Portland. "And she said, 'If you don’t like it, get off the bus.' "
Chapman did, standing next to the Latina mother, and the driver at that point said that anyone else who didn't like it could also get off the bus. One by one, Chapman said, every other passenger on the nearly full bus exited and stood next to the bus near the mother.
"The next bus driver's jaw just dropped when she saw a whole busload of people standing there," Chapman said.
The bus driver tried to explain that she couldn't drive with all that noise. Being a mother herself, she told the dispatcher, it really bothered her, and was "not safe."
The dispatcher told her to go ahead and leave the rebellious passengers to wait for the next bus, but for future reference, throwing crying kids off the bus wasn't allowed. "If somebody’s kid is crying, you still have to drive the bus."
TriMet officials said this week they have put the bus driver, a 10-year veteran who has not been identified, on paid leave pending an investigation.
They emphasized that it isn't the district's policy to eject crying children or anyone else from "vulnerable" populations; rather, they say, a driver with safety concerns is advised to pull over to the side of the road and call for help (a tactic many parents would no doubt have tried long ago if it actually worked.)
The local bus driver's union chief has come out in support of the driver, telling KATU News that the driver drew an appropriate "line in the sand" when faced with a situation that was unsafe.
Parents have written in, relating their own tales of trying to haul strollers onto buses already lurching away from the curb. The mother's non-English-speaking status has been picked apart. Fellow drivers have alternately accused the dispatcher of having "an attitude problem" and the driver of failing to simply "tune out" the offending din.
On Tuesday, TriMet's spokeswoman, Mary Fetsch, put out a call for the mom with the baby to come forward and give her version, because she's about the only one who hasn't, of what happened.
"She's the one most involved in this interaction. We're asking if the mother could contact us and give us more details about what happened from her perspective," Fetsch told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Apparently, some of the passengers are having second thoughts. Maybe everybody just got a little bit too mad about something that wasn't that big a deal, said the passenger who wrote in to the bus drivers' blog.
"I'm kind of unsympathetic to everyone except the poor woman who was just trying to get home and found herself surrounded by all this hoopla," the passenger wrote. "The driver lost her cool and escalated the situation, yes, but several of us riders [yes, myself included in the heat of the moment] did not make things any better."
--Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: A TriMet bus in Hillsboro, Ore. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press