Denver RTD: is this how you treat disabled passengers?

Had a rough start to my day. Has anyone else had a similar experience on the RTD?

The event described below occurred on November 15, and I sent a draft of this letter to RTD that same day. As of today I have received no acknowledgment or reply from them.


RTD Denver

This morning on the F Line I was sitting at the front of the train in the designated disabled section (I have Spinocerebellar Ataxia and have been issued a disabled passenger pass by RTD – the Denver Regional Transportation District). At one point a woman with a rolling walker boarded the train. I started to get up, but she sat beside me and said no, you’re fine. We rode this way a couple stops.

The driver then came back and asked me to move because the woman’s walker was in the aisle. I replied that I was disabled, too. She didn’t understand me and asked me to repeat myself, which I did. She claimed that she still didn’t understand me, so I said fine, I’ll move, and started to get up.

Then she said: “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Not everyone who’s disabled looks it. I’m one of them. And I’m far less disabled than many people, so I don’t want to overclaim anything. Given what the driver could see, her request to move was proper. That she couldn’t understand me – it was on a busy train during rush hour, it could have been my fault for not speaking louder and more clearly, etc.

But “Yeah, that’s what I thought”? Imagine being disabled and she decides to throw a little smack at you.

When we reached my stop, I showed her my disabled pass and she said “What’s that?” I replied “I’m disabled, too.” She responded that she hadn’t understood me, and I replied that was fine, except for the smart-alec comment.

She said “Right, because I didn’t understand you.” She repeated this a couple more times.

She justified her disrespectful comment because she didn’t initially understand me, as though it’s okay for RTD drivers to act in demeaning ways, so long as they’re unclear on what a passenger is saying?

By now I was getting angry. I repeated what I had said about her behavior not being acceptable and left the train. She may tell you that I was abusive. My voice was raised but nothing you could reasonably call abusive happened until a few moments later. As I walked down the ramp, she was still leaning out the door yelling at me, and worse, trying to enlist another departing passenger by asking her if she “saw all that.”

I’ve been riding RTD literally since the first light rail line opened back in the ‘90s and have never seen a driver behave this way toward anyone. (I didn’t get her name, but she was a blonde woman, probably in her 30s.)

I’m not trying to get anybody fired. My main concern here is that the operator be spoken to and encouraged to be a bit more understanding in the future. It isn’t too much to ask for professional behavior and human understanding in public places.


Sam Smith

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