by Lynda Carson
In early June, the much-needed bus shelter and passenger bench at the corner of East 18th Street and 3rd Avenue in Oakland was removed without advance notice to the passengers using the bus stop. Locals were shocked to suddenly find the bus shelter and bench removed.
Many people at the bus stop believe that the removal of the bus shelter and bench was carried out as a collective punishment against the community because homeless people sometimes use the bus shelter to store their possessions.
The bus shelter and bench sat directly in front of a busy Lucky grocery store near Walgreens and has been a greatly needed fixture over the past years because it protects bus passengers from the sun, rain and the often chilly breezes that blow across nearby Lake Merritt.
Many elderly and disabled persons in the community depend on the bus shelter and bench on a daily basis as a place to rest and keep their groceries safely out of the sun while waiting for the next bus.
At least three different buses use the bus stop to collect passengers heading to different destinations, including the #18 bus used by wealthier people heading up into the hills, and the very overcrowded #14 bus that heads deeper into East Oakland. Many bus riders claim the #14 is the worst bus line operating in Oakland.
Locals disparagingly call the #14 line the “ghetto bus” and claim that it is late most of the time, and is generally overcrowded because there are not enough buses operating on the line to support all the poor people who depend on the bus to reach their destination on a daily basis.
In comparison, at times during rush hour, the less crowded #18 bus going to wealthier areas of Oakland appears to be running twice as often at East 18th Street and 3rd Avenue compared to the overcrowded #14 bus used by poor people.
During the past few weeks, according to bus passengers, on at least one occasion the #14 bus was running late by an hour and a half. It was so crammed with people after a few busy stops near 11th Street and Broadway, that bus passengers were shouting and screaming that it was inhumane treatment, and difficult to breathe.
Passengers stated that it became nearly impossible for people to get on or off the bus, as more and more people tried to force their way onto the bus at each stop. According to sources, passengers were screaming to get off the bus and the bus driver kept screaming back at the passengers during that perilous ride.
Cheryl Saunders said, “I have often noticed that the buses going to wealthier areas of Oakland tend to run on time, run more often and are much less crowded than the buses used by poorer people heading into East Oakland.”
Ben Fulcher, Sr. stated, “This is collective punishment against the poor, elderly and disabled who need the bus shelters and other services.”
In response to my request for an interview, Clarence Johnson of media relations for AC Transit repeatedly said that AC Transit does not own the bus shelters and benches located at bus stops in Oakland.
“The bus shelters and benches are all owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, and I do not know why the bus shelter and bench was removed,” Johnson said.
“However, shelters and benches historically have been removed when they are being abused. Sometimes churches will call us to ask us to remove a bus shelter when drug dealers are using the shelters for illegal purposes. When people call to complain that a bus shelter is being abused, generally the bus shelter and benches are removed. You will have to contact Clear Channel Outdoor for more information.”
When I pointed out that removing the much-needed bus shelter and bench because of a few bad actors is inhumane and amounts to collective punishment against the whole community, Johnson continued to defend the actions of Clear Channel Outdoor as being an acceptable practice despite the hardship their actions may have on all the elderly and disabled bus passengers using the bus shelter.
I called Clear Channel Outdoor to speak to someone about the sudden removal of the bus shelter and bench, and was connected to Selena Reynolds, who did not respond to my call. Reynolds handles real estate, including furniture and bus benches at bus stops in Oakland, according to the receptionist.
Next I was transferred to Bruce Qualls, VP of real estate and government affairs for Clear Channel Outdoor who was busy on another line, according to the receptionist. Qualls did not reply to my request for an interview or my request to ask what happened to the bus shelter and bench in front of the Lucky supermarket, or when it would be replaced.
The elderly and disabled people of East Oakland are being abused by tactics of collective punishment when agencies or government partners use their authority to target a whole community in an effort to attack homeless people, or a few drug dealers operating in an area.