Private 'ambassadors' toss away sight-impaired man's walking stick in MBTA faregate spat

The Herald reports on an inciddent the other day at Chinatown on the Orange Line involving a couple of the non-union "ambassadors" a contractor had supplied to replace MBTA customer service agents at T stations.

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Privatization

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I wonder if the training these non-union, contracted personnel were given was sufficient to understand the needs of ADA customers, relevant laws, and common practices at the T.

Just let the passenger ride the system.

Maybe the resulting lawsuit will show the governor that it isn't cheaper to contract out these services.

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OK

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I'll be public about this.. I worked (past tense) briefly for a similar MBTA contractor (the contractor who took over the RIDE call center).

Yes they do get a TON of training about Title 7, which includes discrimination of the disabled.

Now I can't speak for the "ambassadors" contractor but mine gave a TON of Title VII training.

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The Ride

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Yeah, the Ride has the appropriate training. They are specifically focused on passengers with disabilities. Regular MBTA employees who deal with the public are also given this training. I would like to know what training this contractor provided.

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I know

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I know when GCS (the company I worked for) took over CCC (Customer Care), they also got Title 7 training.

I know initially our staff was trained by the MBTA themselves (CCC and the Ride), so lots of title 7 training. And it continued once our trainer was on board.

I believe its across the board. Of course, much like GCS that had oodles of problems with the level of customer service on the RIDE... its really up to management to enforce Title VII enforcement. But then again when employees are making minimum wage and were recruited to work there by being handed a flyer at a T station.... you have to wonder if they even care about enforcing Title VII at all.

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Speaking from a federal, not

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Speaking from a federal, not state, position, but still -- it's in the requirements / contracts that contractors provide training on par with whatever is required of the agency that's hiring, at least in terms of ADA and Title and stuff that will get people sued.

Now, whether employees who are getting paid on a contract after the middle man skims off it and with questionable benefits give a shit, that's debatable.

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Ya Unions are perfect

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Its not like we currently reading about a few teamsters and their thuggish behavior towards women.

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Obvious logic fail

“We train our ambassadors to provide outstanding service, to be courteous, engaging, helpful and sensitive to everyone with whom they meet. These individuals were none of those things.”

I can't escape the conclusion that these individuals were not, in fact, trained as you describe. Shouldn't the company actually perform that training in the first place, instead of just claiming that they they did after their employees screw up?

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First, the blind guy might

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First, the blind guy might have had some issues. When told he needed to have a pass, he should have paid the fare.

Second, being trained by an employer does not change an employee's temperament. Some people just don't deal with human conflict well. They escalate instead of de-escalating. That's a skill many people don't learn until they have to raise a toddler.

Third, it's unlikely that both staffers were that offensive. It sounds like one of them lost his cool. The other one might have been doing it by the book, for all we know.

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If a person appears to have a disability

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as was obviously the case here, it is ILLEGAL for the MBTA, or its employees or agents, to question that disability.

Requiring an apparently blind individual to pay a fare because they don't have the proper pass is effectively questioning the validity of their disability, which is a huge no-no.

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No. The MBTA policy is not

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No. The MBTA policy is not that as simple as "blind people ride free". The policy is that blind people can submit an application with certification of disability to receive a free pass. That pass allows them to ride for free.

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I get your point about MBTA policy.

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However, IMHO, this is precisely the type of situation that can (and does) happen when management (in both private sector or government agencies) drill the philosophy of "absolute obedience to the rules" into their workers - especially when those workers make minimum wage and can be (and have a fear of being) easily replaced.

And yes, absolute obedience to certain rules is clearly important for many workers - MBTA subway and bus operators among them. But there are certain cases where common sense and judgment should be allowed to prevail.

Presuming that the 'ambassadors' had not encountered this person attempting to get a free fare without a TAP before, I agree with the others on here who have suggested that the proper way this situation should have been handled was to inform the blind customer of the policy but still let them in once they persisted on entering (whether or not they attempted to use their cane as a weapon). Instead, because of apparent "absolute obedience to the rules", these workers may have saved the MBTA a $2.80 fare, but caused a Transit Police officer to respond, thus making him unavailable should a more serious situation had arisen, and - yes - have also set the MBTA up for a potential lawsuit.

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I'm not picking up what you're putting down

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One need not be legally blind to use a blind pass for MBTA access. However, one needs to actually have the blind pass.

The rule isn't that blind persons get to ride for free. The rule is that people with the appropriate pass get to ride for free. It's an important distinction precisely because it means that rank and file MBTA staffers don't have any requirement to made a complex decision -- pass or not?

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Explain

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How does someone who is visually impaired get such a pass without taking the train to get there?

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I am sympathic to his plight..

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but he needs a pass. If he did not have a pass, then he should not of been allowed to pass.

Now throwing his stick away is not cool. But again, if they guy went to hit someone with it (and we do not know this) than I would of done the same thing.

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First, you blame the victim

The cop who arrived on the scene disagreed with your assessment of what the impaired guy "should" have done.

Second, if the employees were not of a suitable temperament to deal with the public, they sure as hell should not have been hired as "ambassadors." There are well-established methods for determining such things. That's another failure by the company.

Third, you're speculating about the situation based on no information. The company, which is certainly better informed than you are, decided both employees were culpable, and fired them.

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People sneaking through the

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People sneaking through the gates without paying is rampant and it amounts to theft. I'm glad blind people can ride the T for free but if the guy didn't have the proper pass then he shouldn't be allowed to just sneak behind people. If he played by the rules he wouldn't have been stopped. Otherwise everyone could say they are visually impaired and get on for free. I'm not sure what the "physical confrontation" amounted to but it sounds like it could have been handled better and throwing the guys walking stick just sounds cruel.

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Wasn't aware that the T had an issue

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with throngs of people pretending to be blind in order to get free rides on the system. Yes, fare evasion is an issue - one that MBTA created themselves. But to focus your anger about the problem by citing an inexcusable incident involving a disabled person is just wrong.

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If these fools had been union

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If these fools had been union enployees we wouldn't have heard about this incident and it would have been resolved secretly in arbitration.

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Union employees

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If these people were union employees the T would have been responsible for the training they should have had instead of the profit driven private company.

Mass DOT and the T train their employees not to question people on their ADA status and to assist the passengers, not harass or assault them.

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So its better to have low

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So its better to have low wage, untrained people with high turnover instead of experienced MBTA workers? Many at the MBTA are highly overpaid and its ridiculous that they can retire so early with a pension but to give them credit they literally get spat on and they don't retaliate with a "physical confrontation".

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You have no idea

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This isn't the eighties. Pay and pensions and age eligibility have been cut back.
You are full of crap and don't know what you are talking about.

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If these guys where union

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If these guys where union they wouldn't have been fired. Plenty of MBTA employees do get physical with the public and settlements are made quietly. Why the Hell do you think the MBTA has such a massive legal department compared to every other agency in the state? It's almost impossible to get fired from the MBTA.

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MBTA legal

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Do you have any proof of your claim that the MBTA legal department is so much bigger than other agencies or are you just making stuff up?

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Perhaps because the MBTA, having a far greater

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exposure to the public, is subjected to more lawsuits and potential lawsuits, regardless of whether they have merit, than those other agencies are. When's the last time you heard of someone suing Massport because they tripped exiting a terminal at Logan?

Plus, remember that a legal staff does far more than defend against lawsuits. Things like reviewing and overseeing contracts, insuring compliance with a myriad of state and Federal laws covering everything from ADA compliance (as discussed here) to how high wifi towers along their rights of way can be.

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Very one sided story on T ambassadors and blind man

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The MBTA policy is beyond generous to the blind and visually impaired. Even a friend/guide can ride everything for free with the blind person. All the T asks is that the blind person submit a valid ID and recent letter from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. Is that too much to ask?

The MBTA "free ride" policy seems like a patronizing throwback and a way to "feel sorry" for the blind in an age where people with disabilities have demanded to be treated equally. We've had blind folks as titans of industry, in the U.S. Senate, a recent Governor of New York and Lt. Governor of Washington. They can easily ride the T for free while a homeless veteran or unwed mother in poverty pay full fare? Time to re-examine that policy.

As for the cane allegedly being pushed away, that's despicable if it was meant to tease the blind person but understandable if it had potential as a weapon. The prominent mention of "non-union" ambassadors suggests that union MBTA workers, like the MBTA cop, would have looked the other way and allowed the fare-jumper on board. God bless the blind but that's bad precedent.

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An appropriate response

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An appropriate response might have been to allow the person to ride, but advise him that he needed a TAP pass and to get one ASAP.

Not mentioned in this story was if the person also had a language barrier.

There are thousands of people boarding at Chinatown that speak mostly Mandarin or similar dialects and have limited English capabilities. What the vendor need to do is have someone with appropriate language skills at that station and any other on the borders of the Chinatown district.

This might set a precedent for also accommodating other ethnic needs in other neighborhoods but it may be one possible way of avoiding such situations.

As to removing the cane... if the person were attempting to defend themselves, also eliminated from the story, then removing that weapon is paramount to the encounter. The police would have done the same thing.

Eliminate the threat, then mitigate, in that order.

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Absolutely not

What the vendor need to do is have someone with appropriate language skills at that station and any other on the borders of the Chinatown district.

Accommodating a handicap or disability -- blindness by providing PA announcements, or deafness by providing written materials -- is the responsibility of the MBTA. On the other hand, for someone who has no disability but who doesn't happen to speak English, learning the rules and how to use the system is that person's responsibility. It's not the obligation of the T to provide translation services for visitors.

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multilingual workers

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...but the T does try to accommodate commonly spoken languages by requesting employees with Spanish, Chinese, or other language fluency to identify themselves and work in those neighborhoods where the language may be encountered more often.

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That's great policy

.but the T does try to accommodate commonly spoken languages by requesting employees with Spanish, Chinese, or other language fluency to identify themselves and work in those neighborhoods where the language may be encountered more often.

That's good policy, and it makes the T a more customer-friendly place, but it is in no way an obligation of the T.

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But the blind person was

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But the blind person was allowed to ride the train. He just had to pay the three dollar fare. How is that unreasonable? If I forget my monthly pass one day, I have to pay the full fare too.

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The man being blind makes

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The man being blind makes this contractor behavior more egregious. But it's not strictly an ADA issue.

Nobody except a police officer has the authority to get physical with an MBTA passenger. Period.

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General background on a

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General background on a couple of points.

The need for the card is a relatively recent - and evolving - requirement. 15 years ago* the cane was enough. I don't know if there was technically a requirement for a Mass Commission for the Blind or other state ID, but as a practical matter there was not a requirement. The requirements have evolved a couple of times, as the system has evolved - tokens & fare boxes to some fare cards to eliminating the token to fare boxes on the way out to Charlie tickets to Charlie Cards..

There is also another issue. People eligible for this are often also eligible for The RIDE. You make your reservation on the phone with your RIDE account number - you've demonstrated medical eligibility to get the account and it generally never gets into showing a card at pickup. Depending on their mobility skills and their regular origin/destination needs, the person may have used RIDE almost exclusively for years and simply may not have caught up on all the hoops you now need to jump through to get back to regular T riding (including the "meh" location of the office (something of an improvement over the old one)).

* Also, the T in-house staff - station agents/booth clerks and vehicle operators (and inspectors) tended to be professional and work certain stations/routes - they got to know regular travelers in their sphere of responsibility..

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