Bus Oddities

Wheelchair crashes, collapsing drunks, head-sniffers and other aberrations on Spokane's bus system.

Every once and a while, Leanna Wynecoop’s typically pleasant commute on public transit is punctuated by something odd. Like the other night, when a man reeking of liquor and body odor got on.

“We all just curled into our shirt,” Wynecoop says of the passenger’s reactions to the man.

This is far from the strangest thing to happen on a Spokane bus, though. In 2011, 398 incidents took place on Spokane Transit Authority buses, based on reports obtained by The Inlander. The reports detail everything from falls to angry drivers yelling at buses to fisticuffs and other uncivilized deeds by transit-takers.

Still, distributed across the 10.8 million trips taken on the buses over the course of a year, or the approximately 6.1 million miles traveled, the chances of something going awry on your ride are slim. And they also depend on a number of variables, says Christian Hansen, an associate dean of computing and engineering sciences at Eastern Washington University.

“The shuttle route that does nothing but goes around downtown would have a higher rate of accidents than the Cheney route, which is virtually just highway miles,” says Hansen, who also provided tips on how to calculate the odds of something bad happening on a bus. One should take into account the time of day, the weather and the route driven, he says.

Unfortunately, that kind of information wasn’t provided by Spokane Transit. Nonetheless, the data offers a glimpse into when bus rides go wrong.

Eating It

There are a variety of reasons why people fall on an STA bus: a driver slamming on the brakes to avoid an obstacle, a passenger losing their grip on a wet floor, or simply tripping.

One of the top culprits, though? Intoxication.

“Stopped at 16th and Pines and a very intoxicated male stepped off the bus and stumbled directly in front of the bus, falling flat on his face,” reads an incident report from March 3.

STA drivers are equipped with first-aid kits, Spokane Transit spokeswoman Molly Myers says, and they know how to use them.

But first-aid kits can’t change a person’s behavior.

“A female passenger was using foul language,” reported a driver on June 5. He writes that he called dispatch and the lady started to leave. “Before leaving she yelled at me, then threw a bag of Cheetos at me.”

Belligerent riders appear regularly in the incident reports, averaging out to about one for every 108,319 rides.

Consider the lady with the purple blanket.

“As I was strapping her in, I moved a big purple blanket on her lap about 3 to 4 inches. She jerked the blanket back, accusing me of lifting her dress, chastising me,” reads a report from Nov. 14, about a wheelchair-bound passenger. “I know of several other drivers that have had the same problem with her.”

"Sniffing His Son's Head"

And then there are instances that get totally out of hand.

“Operator was spit upon by a female passenger while in Zone 7. She was trying to swipe her card, and the operator was trying to help her. She became upset, said the driver poked her in the eye, etc. Security was called to assist,” reads an incident report that is indicative of the type of altercation that can result when things go sour on an STA bus.

That altercation ended with the passenger arrested and banned from the bus for a year.

Fights occur about once every 601,777 rides. Sometimes people fight each other, like on July 5, when a “male passenger got off at 12th and Perry, bumped into a disabled man, and a fight almost broke out.” Other times, they fight the bus itself.

“Picked up a homeless intoxicated male. As he sat down, he swung his backpack and hit a woman on the shoulder,” reads a report from July 30. When the man wouldn’t apologize, “I then stopped the bus and asked him to leave. He got up, cussing, and hit the bus window, breaking it with a beer can.”

Some incidences are simply unclassifiable.

“A father informed me that a man seated behind him and his son was sniffing his son’s head twice,” according to an Oct. 6 report.

On Dec. 6: “Regular passenger, female, demonstrates the use of her new stun gun. She has been asked to put it away. Twice she has boarded and brandished her stun gun to other passengers. Other passengers are complaining about her.”

Not to mention the man who pegged a driver with a candy jawbreaker, or the passenger who walked onto the bus, urinated, then walked off.

It’s not always so violent. Andrew Ward, a commuter waiting for his ride home on Monday, remembered the day he watched a man inflate and distribute balloon animals on a bus home.

“That’s weird. I mean, who goes on the bus and makes balloon animals for people?” Ward wonders.

Perhaps this Aug. 3 entry sums up the type of behavior some feel is appropriate on public transit: “At 5 Mile Park and Ride, a man boarded the bus with dog poop all over his shoes and the back of his pants. I told him he could not ride until he was cleaned up. He walked away.”

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About The Author

Chris Stein

Chris Stein is a staff writer at The Inlander. He covers social services, downtown Spokane, Eastern Washington and Spokane city hall. His work has been published by the Associated Press, VeloNews and the Santa Barbara Independent. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.