What do you do when you are on a bus that is driving erratically and you fear the driver may be drunk? I was on this bus last night and I still don’t know what we should have done. Would you?
I got on the 7:40 Hampton’s Jitney bus in Westhampton Beach headed to Manhattan. It was packed and I was stuffed in one of the last seats near the bathroom. The bus gets underway and makes a sudden stop. Did it stall or breakdown? 5 minutes later we’re back on the road and the rumors start. “The driver was out puking by the side of the bus,” someone up front says to no one in particular.
I did not see this for myself, but my first question is, “Why?” Did the driver have the stomach flu or did he down 7 shots of Tequila with dinner?” I choose to believe that he’s just a hard working guy trying to make it through his shift. We’ve all been there. Too sick to work, but afraid to call in.
The bus is now going faster. And it is veering off the road. A lot.
The woman in front of me is getting more upset . She tells the Hampton Jitney girl collecting the money, that she wants the bus to pull over. Now.
Exit after exit passes. We’re now getting close to the tunnel. The woman says that there is no way she’s going into the tunnel with this guy. He will crash for sure.
Others are getting increasingly scared too. The Hampton Jitney girl tries to reason with the driver. He goes faster.
The woman in front of me goes up to see the driver herself and demands that he pull the bus over. She now says that she can bring this bus safely to a halt if she needs to. I believe her.
This has now turned into an urban mutiny of sorts. There are those with the driver and those against him. The guy in the front of the bus declares, “I’ve been watching him. He’s doing fine.” Someone else says, “I NEED to get to Manhattan and I don’t give a shit, HOW.”
Several people are now calling the Hampton’s Jitney number to beg them to please stop this bus, to no avail. It is not clear to me whether the company spoke to the driver and he still wouldn’t stop or if they never spoke to him at all.
Is this what the survivors of other bus crashes experienced? Did they know that something awful was about to happen and were they powerless to stop it?
The woman next to me dials 9-1-1. As she’s on the phone with the dispatcher, telling him the bus number to look for, explaining what exit we just passed, and how we need a cop to come and stop this bus and see if the driver is drunk, the Money Girl is still trying to collect our fares. I tell her there’s absolutely no way we are paying for this ride. More people are now calling 9-1-1. I secretly wish some rogue cop like Bruce Willis’ character in the Die Hard movies will come and save us, but I know this is not going to happen.
The fact that we are not paying, actually seems to get their attention! The bus is now slowing down and comes safely to a stop. 10-12 of us get off and we find ourselves directly off the L.I.E. We still have to figure out how to get home. Out of desperation, someone calls the company one last time and is told, “YOU all were drunk, YOU should have stayed on the bus!” Obviously they are not going to send another bus or help in anyway. Some get on city buses heading into Queens and others call car services.
Did we over react? Was the driver perfectly safe? I don't think so. But more importantly, what SHOULD we have done? Calling the company didn’t work. Appealing to the driver failed. 9-1-1 couldn’t help. I am writing this story now as a kind of “Public Service Pitch” to alert people of the dangers and also to start a dialogue about what people could do in the future if they find themselves in this situation. What would YOU do?
UPDATE: I spoke to someone in the Jitney's Safety Department who sounded genuinely shocked by this story. He said it was now his job to follow up with the driver and see what happened. I will continue to let people know about this, because I want to find out if this was an isolated incident or if there are ongoing issues.