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The next day the bus drivers countered on KLVE and told Barreto that most passengers do not understand what the drivers go through.
What’s really going on here is more than annoyances over a missed transfer or frazzled nerves over an abrupt stop during rush hour. Bus riders like Edmundo Hernandez, a 35-year-old shopkeeper, believe that the root of the friction is cultural and ethnic. “Whenever you ask them a question and they notice that your English is not that good or that you have an accent, some bus drivers will not give you an answer,” said Hernandez, who has been an MTA rider since he arrived from Mexico 15 years ago. “They will rudely tell you that they don’t know or simply will not acknowledge you.” The daily clashes between bus riders and drivers is one of the main reasons — besides the obvious inconvenience of lack of transportation the strike created — that support for the strike in the Latino community has been low, Hernandez said. Though most bus drivers do an exemplary job, the small band of rude drivers has ruined it for others.
Gladis Andrade, 40, a Salvadoran immigrant, said that in her 12-year career as an MTA bus driver she has been beaten, insulted and been the target of sexual remarks. The problems have all been with Latino passengers. “I was once hit so hard by a woman passenger that my shoulder was injured and I was forced to work light-duty work for a year,” Andrade said. “In another incident, a gang member socked me in the face.”
Women drivers usually have it harder than male drivers because of cultural Latino machismo, Andrade said. Many Latino passengers try to make a pass or a crude remark to her. “Most of the problems I’ve had have been with Latino men: They say sexual remarks to you or stare at your legs,” Andrade said.
While not condoning such behavior, Ardon said that cultural traits among male Latino immigrants, like flirting, are hard to drop. This can create tensions for drivers like Andrade. “Also, recent immigrants are not used to seeing women as bus drivers,” Ardon said. “I think both sides need sensitivity training.”
Tensions between passengers and some drivers have been going on for years, Bus Riders Union spokesman Martín Hernández said. The union backs the drivers in their strike, but does not condone the actions of some “bad apple” drivers. Dan Ibarra, MTA executive officer for transit operations, said by and large MTA bus operators perform their duties in stellar fashion under highly stressful conditions. Complaints have been going down and now amount to three for every 100,000 passengers, he said, agreeing with drivers that more programs for passengers on rules and driver responsibilities are needed.
Andrade suggested that the MTA offer riders educational programs on the rules and responsibilities of drivers. She blamed MTA administrators for living in a world detached from the reality of bus riding. “But I don’t think that the problems will go away,” Andrade said. “I think they will go on.”