THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A BLACK DISABLED TRANSIT ACTIVIST
Although Horace Kilgore was confined to a wheelchair, he was a fighter and an advocate for disabled transit riders in metro Atlanta for over 10 years. The 55-year old African American activist was a strong supporter and critic of the Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority or MARTA. He was a regular fixture at MARTA board meetings and often led protest demonstrations in his wheelchair for improved services to the disabled.
On September 22, 2000, he was struck down by an automobile and killed at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Metropolitan Parkway in Atlanta, soon after disembarking the #95 MARTA bus. Atlanta lost a warrior. There are hundreds of Horace Kilgore's in metro Atlanta. Over 300 pedestrians were killed in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties during 1994-1998. Pedestrian fatality rates for non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics were two and six times greater, respectively, than for non-Hispanic whites. Although people of color account for less than one third of the population in the region, they account for nearly two thirds of all the pedestrian fatalities in the region. This metro Atlanta pedestrian fatality study is found at http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4828a1.htm. A national study entitled Mean Street 2000 reports that for each mile traveled, walking is 36 times more dangerous than driving and more than 300 time more dangerous than flying. The study can be viewed at http://www.transact.org/Reports/ms2000/default.htm.
Mr. Kilgore was an active member of the Santa Fe Villas Tenants Association and the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Equity Coalition (MATEC), a coalition of eleven black Atlanta community organizations that filed a complaint charging MARTA with noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint summary can be viewed at http://www.ejrc.cau.edu/martacomplaintsum.html.
Interview with Mr. Horace Kilgore
People of color disabled MARTA riders were interviewed by EJRC legal staff as part of a research project related to the complaint allegations. Mr. Kilgore was interviewed on July 13, 2000. The following excerpts were taken from his interview.
Q. Please state your name, disability and how it impacts your everyday functioning.
Kilgore. Horace Kilgore, Jr. I've had arthritis for a number of years--10 or 15 years. I've only been in a wheel chair for four years.
Q. Is MARTA your primary source of transportation?
Kilgore. Basically, MARTA is my primary source.
Q. Do you have access to an automobile?
Kilgore. No. Not at the moment I don't.
Q. What is your annual household income?
Kilgore. I draw social security and disability.
Q. Will MARTA's fare increase impact your ability to use MARTA?
Kilgore. It most certainly will. It will have a great impact. You just don't pick up a quarter everywhere. It will have an impact.
Q. How do you usually pay when you use MARTA? Do you pay the half-price disabled/senior rate?
Kilgore. Well, normally I use my half-fare card. Sometimes when I got a little extra money I buy a MARTA card.
Q. Does paying the one-half fare work well for you? Do you get to do everything that you need to do?
Kilgore. I guess it does. It's just that I ride the bus sometimes a lot. Like I say, I go a lot. Sometimes I use the system five to six times a day. Sometimes more than that. And if you use the system that much and pay $.75 each way, you figure out what you're paying to what you pay for a card by the week.
Q. Where do you go on MARTA? Do you use it for all of your basic essentials of life, such as medical care and grocery shopping?
Kilgore. Yes, basically everything I do. You know if I have to go somewhere, I have to use MARTA, wherever I'm going, whatever I'm doing. Wherever I go I use it. That's why I get so angry about it. When you go out to catch a bus and it's supposed to be a lift bus in that slot and there's no lift bus there. You know you get your time down to where you'll make your trip comfortable, and you go out to catch a bus and there's no lift bus in that slot. It closes you off. You have to wait sometimes 30 to 40 minutes for another one.
Q. What special services do you need to use MARTA?
Kilgore. I need lift equipment. If I can get the bus I usually make my destinations wherever I'm going.
Q. Do you use MARTA's paratransit service?
Kilgore. No, I've never tried that, because I go so much. To my understanding about MARTA, their paratransit works a little different from regular service. And if I use paratransit it would cost me a lot more.
Q. Does MARTA provide the services that you need? Have you had any difficulties using MARTA because of your disability?
Kilgore. If I went out to catch a bus now, and that bus was supposed to be out there at 5:45, and that bus comes by and it's not a lift bus, then I'm stuck there until the next bus comes by. And that's regardless to what kind of weather you're in, you know. Then, sometimes you go out there and the bus has a lift on it, the operator will tell you that the lift doesn't work, so you're still stuck.
Q. What's the longest that you've had to wait on a bus?
Kilgore. I've waited out here an hour on a bus because either the bus was broke down or the bus was not a lift-bus as it was supposed to be.
Q. Have you had any of these occurrences with the lift buses in the last six months?
Kilgore. Oh sure, I just had some. I tried to catch a bus last night. The guy that was driving the bus last night knows that a lift bus is supposed to be in the slot. And when he pulled up to me he said that his other bus broke down and they brought him this one. And he didn't notice that it wasn't a lift bus until he had gotten on the route with it. But I think that was his negligence, because if he's the driver and he knows that he's supposed to have a lift bus, he should check these things before he moves that bus. This was last night. I wanted to catch the bus, but I couldn't because it didn't have a lift on it.
Q. Have you had any other difficulties using MARTA's services because of your disability? Any problems with the MARTA rail?
Kilgore. Basically, it's the buses. Every once in a while you encounter a station where the elevator is out and you have to make preparations to do something else, but basically it's the buses. I've been on several buses where teenagers sit, and an old woman and man get on the bus with a cane and the driver doesn't tell them to get up to let them have a seat. Now some drivers will. I have seen some drivers that will and some drivers that won't.
Q. Have you had problems getting a seat?
Kilgore. The only problem I've had with getting on a bus is at the West End Station. When the bus pulls into the loading area of the West End Station, the driver should see that the elderly and handicapped people get on first, but they don't. They don't do this here. And if the bus is filled up before I get on, I have to sit there and wait. If it's crowded, he doesn't say, "I have a handicapped person, let him ride." He says, "Well I have a full load." This is what one told me, "Well the bus is full now, what do you want me to do?"
Q. So then you have to wait on another bus or another that is lift-equipped?
Kilgore. I have to wait on another bus that has the equipment. And if the next one is not lift-equipped that means I have to wait until the next one comes. I used to ride the #2, and when I'd leave home in the morning they'd have a lift bus out there. But, when I'd go back home at night they've taken the lift buses off the route. This bus that I was going to catch last night, now this was the last guy to leave the station at 12:44. If I had been going into the station at 12:00 or 12:20 last night, another bus would have had to be called for me to get home last night because he didn't have a lift-equipped bus. But, you can get left. Basically, when this happens they'll try to accommodate you with services, but you'll have to wait and it just throws off your time.
Q. Have you experienced any difficulties with the lack of shelters?
Kilgore. Oh sure, okay we just got a bench put out there, but that doesn't protect us from the rain. They just put us a bench out there about a month ago. That's not protecting anyone from the rain. And I understood a MARTA customer service representative to say that they're probably going to, in the near future, put another one out there. If a car came by here real fast, right now, and it was raining, we'd get drenched from that, because it would splash water all over us. The closest shelter that I know about is at the red light down there by Dallas. And the next one is at Saint John. That's up past Wendy's up there. There are no other bus shelters around here.
Q. Have you experienced any differences in the services provided by MARTA on the North versus the South side of town?
Kilgore. These drivers out here, some of them have real negative attitudes. When you try to talk to them about your situation or about a problem, it's like, "What you telling me for? I don't want to hear about it, you know." But if you go to other sides of town, and I know quite a few drivers, and I've seen the attitudes of some of those drivers, how they act towards other people. And they don't have those same attitudes. I asked a lady at customer service the other day, did they give the drivers an "attitude adjustment" class.
Q. You've called to complain?
Kilgore. Yes, I have. And she said they would do have some sort of counseling.
Q. Do the drivers have a negative attitude when you need assistance with your equipment, or do you mean in general they have a negative attitude?
Kilgore. I had one driver that always tells me that his lift doesn't work, and when I confronted him about his lift, and asked him about it, he jumped up off his bus and acted like he wanted to come up off his bus after me. I asked him, I said, "Man, everyday you come out here and drive your bus and you say that your lift doesn't work." "What am I supposed to do?" And he jumped up off the bus. I told him to come on out there, cause I'm kind of crazy too, you know. I had this one lady say, "It's not my job to supervise the lift buses. All I do is drive them. I take what they give me." That's not the way to talk to nobody. I think what they should do is, when you ask, if I were a driver I would say, "My bus is not equipped, but I will try to find out for you when the next one will be along or how long you will have to wait." I've had them tell me, "My lift don't work." And they pull right on off on you.
Q. Have you put in complaints with MARTA about this?
Kilgore. I tell them about drivers. I get the numbers off the buses. You never can find out a driver's name, because they don't display their nametags. I think it used to be a law that when they were driving the buses they had to display their nametags.
Q. Does MARTA follow up on your complaints to let you know what's being done to respond?
Kilgore. I've gotten one MARTA card from them. That was last week I think this lady gave me a weekly MARTA card.
Q. How many complaints have you put in?
Kilgore. I called so much one week that once when I called I said, "Yeah, this is me." And they said, "You're Mr. Kilgore, aren't you?" When you call them they'll try to lay the weight off on one side. Then when you talk to them, they'll try to lay the weight off on another side; because when you talk to them you can't get both sides together. See, so you're hanging. You're right in the middle. You're bouncing right there in the middle of it. If you could ever meet with the driver and the dispatcher, or the dispatcher and the complaint person all at the same time, you understand, you'd probably get a better understanding. But you never meet with them at the same time. So, you just get, more or less, one side here and one side there.
Q. You said that the attitudes on the North side are different. Is there a difference in equipment as well?
Kilgore. Do you ride the MARTA bus? I tell you what, I'll give you a number, the number 45 Virginia McLynn, there at the North Avenue Station. From the time that bus pulls out until the time it stops at night, see what type bus service they got. They got all lift-equipped buses, all, not one, all. They don't have those big ragged 3300 model buses running up and down through their neighborhood. You know what I'm saying? But, we got them out here. I think MARTA customer service said something about the residents in Virginia McLynn area saying something about the big buses tearing up their streets. So they got a smaller version. They got these 1400 model buses. It's a smaller bus. You understand what I'm saying.
Q. Is there anything else that you'd like to add regarding MARTA's services or transit fares?
Kilgore. I have nothing against the fare hike if the money is going to a use to help the ADA out. But, I don't want a fare hike if I'm going out here to help this man in Gwinnett County get to Fulton County, when he's not paying anything into it.