Recently, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor said to me: “You’re too high maintenance” for our service. He was referring to Bartow Transit, a state and tax funded transportation service available to every Bartow County citizen.
Some other things he said:
“Bartow Transit is not a Taxi service.”
“You’re not entitled to use our services.”
Why did the Commissioner make these remarks? Because I had the audacity to question why Bartow Transit cancels reservations without notice. Because I express dissatisfaction when the time scheduled for my appointment is changed without notification.
So how did I find myself entangled with Commissioner Taylor?
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, I took myself out of the driver’s seat.
I’ve had declining mobility issues for several years, primarily in my legs. By 2019, muscle strength in my legs had declined so much that when driving I had to take both hands off the wheel and use them to transfer my right leg between gas and brake pedals. It was a frightening exercise. Even so, I had been reluctant to give up driving. I didn’t want to let go of one more article of independence. But on that Thanksgiving drive, I terrified myself. It became dreadfully clear that I was endangering every driver around me. When I got home that day, I put my keys away.
For months afterwards, I only left my house when someone could drive me. I don’t like asking for help, and it takes effort for me to get in and out of most vehicles. So, I limited my requests for chauffeurs to only essential situations. In the meantime, I researched handicap accessible vans and cars. I was searching for something with hand controls that I could operate myself. Quickly I learned the cost for one of these conversion vehicles is out of reach for me.
After retiring from driving, I felt isolated. At the time, going outside, even onto my porch, was not an option. I couldn’t walk to my mailbox. Previously, I had used my car to drive the short distance to retrieve my mail. Now, I had to rely on others to bring the mail to me. My car had enabled me to feel like I was still part of my community. I used it for picnics in the park. I would pick up Chick Fil A from the window and drive over to Dellinger Park for a picnic in my car. Sometimes I had lunch near the duck pond. Other times, I watched teens playing basketball on the park’s courts. I used my car for brief driveway visits with friends and family. These things sound small and insignificant to most, but they were tethers to a common life for me.
Prior to admitting defeat and giving up the open road, walking had become slow and difficult. Additionally, it was awfully painful and unsafe. In a six-month period, I had fallen twice and broken my left foot both times. Around the time that I hung up my keys, my doctor encouraged me to use a wheelchair. I had fought it for years, but I knew it was time. And eventually, I did as she suggested. The wheelchair gave me the freedom to continue to live independently, get some small things done around my house without asking for help, and go outside again. It has become my legs.
The chair liberated me. But I still wanted to leave my driveway. I longed to go to a store without asking for help. I wanted to leave my house for a hair appointment rather than try to find a stylist to come to me. I wanted to meet friends for lunch downtown or go to a medical appointment without bothering family and friends to drive me. People are busy.
I live in a rural area and public transportation options are limited. But one day last fall, a lightbulb lit up inside my brain. I happened to think about a sweet elderly lady I met several years ago. She had been standing outside Ingle’s in Cartersville when I first met her. It was raining and she was attempting to cover her hair with an empty plastic bag in one hand, while holding three full grocery bags in her other hand. When I was within speaking distance of her, I asked if I could give her a ride. She told me she was waiting for a county bus. When I exited the store forty-five minutes later, she was still there. I couldn’t leave her there. After a few minutes, I persuaded her to allow me to drive her home. On the short drive to her apartment, we had a wonderful conversation about her grandchildren and my children. We learned that despite being from different races, different cultures, and different generations, we had many things in common. We even had the same middle name.
Thinking of Dena generated a memory of Bartow Transit.
I googled Bartow Transit and found they are still in business. I called them for more information. I learned they operate Monday through Friday, 9-4PM. They will transport Bartow County residents to any Bartow business (eventually I learned this does not include restaurants). This was great news. It meant I wouldn’t have to bother others for daytime appointments. I could use Bartow Transit for medical appointments, grocery shopping, etc.
From the start, I was impressed with Bartow Transit drivers. They are kind, friendly, and helpful. They are excellent examples of customer service. Perfect, southern gentlemen.
My first impression of their office staff was a good one. My first contact was with a lady who was professional and courteous. For this article, I’ll call her Lady A. But a second woman in the office made me feel as if I was a bother to her. She can’t be described as courteous. Or professional. Rude is too soft an adjective to illustrate her. I’ll call her Miss Trunchbull for now. Every call I make to schedule an appointment with Bartow Transit is a battle if she picks up the phone. At first, I overlooked the rude, belligerent attitude of this Bartow Transit employee. But when my scheduled appointments began to be cancelled without reason or notice, I knew I needed to address the issue. I called the director of the service and filed a grievance. When the director made it clear he wasn’t concerned, I called Commissioner Steve Taylor. It took several attempts by phone and email, plus one in person visit, over a period of weeks, before I received a response from Commissioner Taylor. He assured me the “glitches” were not intentional.
As time moved forward and the same issues persisted, I called both the director and Mr. Taylor again. They implied the problem was with me, not with their employee. I suggested they record all calls, as many customer-service business do, so they can monitor the level of customer service being provided. With recorded calls, they could hear for themselves what I hear from Miss Trunchbull. Steve Taylor said he would take my suggestion into consideration.
The issues persisted. The rudeness escalated. My reservations continued to be removed or left off the books. In April, I sent Commissioner Steve Taylor an email detailing the most recent incidents. He never responded to the email.
A friend suggested I contact the office of Governor Brian Kemp, since Commissioner Taylor is subordinate to the Governor. I called and sent an email as directed. As of this date, I haven’t received a response from Governor Kemp.
Early in May I scheduled a Bartow Transit reservation for May 24, 2022. The destination was my district’s election center. The director of Bartow Transit answered the phone and scheduled my reservation for 5/24/22, Georgia’s Primary Election Day.
On the morning of Monday, May 16, I called to schedule another trip for later in the week. Miss Trunchbull answered. I told her I was flexible and requested an appointment for Thursday or Friday of the same week. She advised there were no available times and no available days for the entire week. I thanked her and ended the call. We never discussed my already scheduled May 24 trip.
I use Bartow Transit every two or three weeks. Considering the “glitches” with many of my appointments, I am in the practice of calling to confirm the day prior or the morning of my appointment. On May 24, I didn’t call to confirm. My appointment was for 10:00. When the driver had not arrived by a few minutes past the scheduled time, I called Bartow Transit. Miss Trunchbull answered. I asked her if the driver was on his way. She placed me on hold. A few minutes later, the office manager picked up the call and said:
“Miss Able, you called in on the 16th and cancelled your trip.”
I advised her I had not cancelled. I had indeed called on the 16th to schedule a different reservation, but I had not discussed the appointment scheduled for the 24th. The 24th was the final day to vote in the primary election. Why would I cancel that trip? The manager sent a driver within the hour, and he got me to the poll location with time to spare.
When I returned home that day, I called the director of Bartow Transit. He was unavailable so I left a message describing the day’s incident. I had incorrectly presumed he would want to be aware of the continuing problem. Later in the day, he and the office manager conference called me. In short, he told me I could find another form of transportation. The manage told me that complaining about Miss Trunchbull was equivalent to harassment of her. They were not concerned that one of their employees continually inconvenienced a customer by canceling trips or changing pick-up times.
Wouldn’t you want to know if a business you oversee was practicing poor customer service habits?
A day after the conference call, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor phoned me. He said he had just ended a meeting with the director of Bartow Transit and Miss Trunchbull. He advised they found no wrongdoing on her part.
Commissioner Taylor accused me of “having it in” for Miss Trunchbull (I’ve never met her). How so? Was it because I reported the occasions my reservations were cancelled without authorization? Or is it because they were made aware that drivers were sent to pick me up two hours early? Perhaps it’s because I was left waiting outside at an intown location for an hour and a half in 90-degree weather, because the driver was never dispatched? Do these incidents indicate I “have it in for her?”
He said I was “too high maintenance’ for their service. I asked how he concluded that my expectations of service constitute high maintenance? He ignored my question. However, Commissioner Taylor did inform me I am the “only person who has ever called him or the Transit office to complain.“
He said, “We are not a taxi service, and you can’t use it as one.” Now this was a puzzling statement from the county commissioner. I’ve never thought of the service as a taxi. I follow their rules:
- Reservations must be requested by noon the day prior to pick-up (early in my association with Bartow Transit, a family member passed away and I didn’t have a way to get to the funeral home for his service. I called them to see if they make exceptions to the “before noon” reservation for transit for this type of life event. They advised they do no. This is the only request of this kind I have made.t)
- Passengers must be prepared for pick-up one hour prior to scheduled time.
- Drivers will honk once and will not wait more than 5 minutes, so be ready to go when they arrive.
He accused me of calling to complain if the bus is late. This is partially true. BT requires riders to be ready for pick-up one hour before a scheduled pick-up time. Therefore, I am aware that waiting is involved. I did call to ask about a particular late pick-up. It was 40 minutes past the time they said they would arrive and my appointment at the Hope Center was in 20 minutes. It’s a fifteen-minute drive, not including the on-off-loading of a wheelchair. That day, when I called Bartow Transit, I was advised that I was not on the schedule. But I knew that I had been on schedule because I had called the day before to confirm.
During conversations with the commissioner and the director, both have stated BT is a private company: “we are a private service, and you have no rights here.” This was referring to any rights provided by the American Disabilities Act. In one conversation, Mr. Taylor said their funds come from the GADOT. I have learned from their own website that Bartow Transit is partly funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as funds from the Federal Transit Administration.
Commissioner Taylor banned me from using the service for 30 days and advised the BT office to record every call that comes in from me. I agreed with him that every call should be recorded so that he is aware of any customer service issues (his office is not in the same building as Bartow Transit).
He said only my incoming calls would be recorded.
“That’s my decision,” he informed me.
I am not seeking special treatment from Bartow Transit. I just want the same service offered to every citizen of Bartow County. Does that really mean I’m “high maintenance” or that I have an “entitled” attitude?
My ban from Bartow Transit expires at the end of June 2022. If I decide to use the service again, I imagine the problem will continue. Why would it not, considering the commissioner does not recognize that he has a breakdown in customer service?
I need the services of Bartow Transit. I wish I didn’t. And I believe if I bring any future concerns to the commissioner’s attention, I will be banned from the transit service permanently.
Individuals with disabilities feel unseen, unheard, and dismissed. It’s partly why I fought to hide what was happening to me. I knew I would be seen as an invaluable member of society to many people. Perhaps these perceptions are unintentional. Nevertheless, they inflict pain and embarrassment onto those of us trying to navigate life in an “able bodied” world. In my limited interactions with Commissioner Taylor, he has proven to embody the point of view that I feared and dreaded…that the disabled are invaluable and unworthy.
Regarding the situation mentioned here with the commissioner and Bartow Transit…. what would you do?
Danita Clark Able