Category Archives: Transportation

It’s a Toyota!

Island Blue Metallic Toyota Yaris, photo from Hodgson Toyota Newcastle (Note: I redacted the number plate myself)I’ve just arrived home from the Toyota dealer — with a contract to buy a 2016 Yaris. (It’s a 2014 model, design-wise, but was first registered in 2016.) I had considered getting an earlier model for less money, but I looked at the emissions and the fuel efficiency and the road tax and the insurance rating and the length of warranty remaining, and I decided to go for the more recent one even though I think the front grille makes it look like Yosemite Sam. I settled on the color Toyota calls “Island Blue Metallic” (do all auto manufacturers come up with such romantic color names? My last Toyota was a dark green they called “Woodland Pearl”), chosen from similar ones because I liked the color. I had been to the bank earlier and arranged a loan (my bank was offering an interest rate even lower than Toyota’s lowest and was also willing to consider my US income), so I was all prepared.

I had been pondering whether to buy a car this weekend or next, considering that I won’t be moving house for another three weeks, and it turns out that doing it today was perfect timing. The dealer has to arrange the road tax, which they can’t do on a weekend, so I test-drove it and put down a deposit, and I’ll pick it up next Friday. I still have to arrange insurance, but the dealer offers a three-day insurance policy that gives me time to sort my own, and I’ve got a couple of quotes already that I need to pursue.

The sales guy was explaining the controls, telling me that they were all pretty much where I would expect them, from having had Toyotas previously. “Except”, I said, “that the gearshift is to my left.”

Yee-haa!

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Update: Wheelchair assistance issue at Global Entry

Early last week I wrote a long post about my first experience of airport wheelchair assistance during my recent trip to the US. The following day I wrote to Bruce P. Heppen, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), as the incident where the wheelchair assistant had inappropriately tried to help me with Global Entry had occurred at Washington Dulles Airport. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Mr. Heppen,

I received wheelchair assistance at IAD after arriving on BA 293 from LHR on the 28th of April. I am writing to alert you of a problem I observed that may indicate the need for additional training of your wheelchair assistants.

When the wheelchair assistant picked me up, I told her I had Global Entry, and she seemed to know what that was. We got there and she wheeled me up to the kiosk. Two or three times while I was using it the assistant tried to tell me what to click. The second time it happened, I assured her I was very familiar with how to use Global Entry, but I’m not sure she believed me. The third time, she did it while I was thinking about whether what was displayed was correct (I decided it was), but evidently she thought I was confused, and when she said “Click ‘Next'” I lost my patience and said “Don’t rush me!”

It later occurred to me that her behavior was highly inappropriate. Wheelchair assistants have absolutely no business watching what travellers do with Global Entry, let alone trying to help — it’s a matter of both traveller privacy and national security. If the CBP personnel monitoring the area sense that a traveller needs help, they will offer their assistance. CBP is authorized to do so, wheelchair assistants are not.

I hope you will take steps to address this urgent matter without delay.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours,

Elizabeth Buie

Mr. Heppen replied very quickly, apologizing on behalf of MWAA but saying that under Federal law it’s the airline’s responsibility to provide wheelchair assistance and the airlines have subcontractors for this service at each airport.

Now, I have no clue how individual airlines could be responsible for hiring their own wheelchair service providers, and I really thought it was the service provider that needed to be providing the training. But he said he would pass it along to BA, so I waited.

Tonight I heard from British Airways. They completely misunderstood my complaint — they apologized for the behavior of the wheelchair handler, and they got her to apologize too. I will grant them an attempt at empathy — they said they understood “how upsetting this must have been” for me — but even this statement misunderstood the issue. BA got in touch with Air Serv Corporation, the service provider, who had the assistant’s manager talk to her, and they all relayed to me an apology from the assistant, who “was just trying to help” but “now understands she overstepped her boundaries” in assisting me with Global Entry. BA told me that if I didn’t feel the matter had been resolved I could file a formal complaint with the US Department of Transportation. BA told me that according to my account her behavior

…did not comply with US Department of Transportation § 382.141 which states (a) As a carrier that operates aircraft with 19 or more passenger seats, you must provide training, meeting the requirements of this paragraph, for all personnel who deal with the traveling public, as appropriate to the duties of each employee. (2) You must also train such employees with respect to awareness and appropriate responses to passengers with a disability, including persons with physical, sensory, mental, and emotional disabilities, including how to distinguish among the differing abilities of individuals with a disability.

Hmmm… The regulation says that the carrier must train all staff in how to treat people with disabilities, but it says nothing about a requirement to train them in how they should behave while a traveller is using Global Entry.

Admittedly, I did not convey to Mr. Heppen that I thought the responsibility belonged with the assistant’s employer, who had failed to provide adequate training for her regarding this area of assistance. And I really didn’t mean to get the assistant in trouble! I suspect it had never occurred to her that she should not even be watching me use Global Entry, let alone helping me with it, and I don’t blame her in any way for not being aware of the privacy and security issues. The only thing I fault her for is intruding into something that was none of her business, but that pales in comparison to Air Serv’s failure to train her properly.

So here’s what I sent to British Airways in response to their email:

Dear Ms. Altadonna,Thank you again for your substantial email. I see that my concern has been misunderstood, so I am writing to I clear things up.

Wheelchair assistants cannot be blamed for trying to help when they have not received adequate training in their duties regarding how to behave when someone they are assisting uses the Global Entry kiosk. “Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.” (from http://www.globalentry.gov) I feel fairly confident that most wheelchair assistants have not been pre-approved as low-risk travelers and thus I maintain that they should never see, let alone influence, what a traveler enters into the kiosk. If they sense that a traveler needs assistance with Global Entry, they should summon a CBP official to provide it.

Yes, the wheelchair assistant made an incorrect assumption about my abilities. (I admit I was tempted to tell her I had arthritis and not dementia.) But her assumption was not the real issue, and the burden of apology does not fall on her. That burden falls on Air Serv Corporation for failing to provide their staff with adequate training. I really do not want an apology, however; I want a change in behavior, a change in the system. I want an acknowledgment from Air Serv that they have the responsibility to ensure adequate training in this area; I want a commitment from them to provide it. This sort of behavior compromises not only traveler privacy and autonomy, but US national security.

I do wish to file a complaint, but against Air Serv Corporation, not against the assistant. Please let me know how I can do that.

FYI: I have reported this incident to CBP.

Please see my blog post about my wheelchair assistance experience: https://leisurelyseekingdoctorate.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/airport-wheelchair-assistance-a-first-experience/
I am about to post an update.

Your cabin crews were all marvellous, by the way. Nobody patronized me, and they all provided exactly the help I needed when I asked for it.

Yours,
Elizabeth Buie

The “update” I mention at the end of my letter to BA is the one you are reading right now. Stay tuned.


Note to Air Serv: Your website is dreadful. And have you noticed that your logo and typeface look eerily like Global Entry’s? Hmmm…

Senior bus pass!

Travel Pass photoThis week I received my “Concessionary Travel Pass“, the pass that allows older people to use local buses free after 9:30am and on weekends. Each country in the UK has its own pass, and since I live in England mine is good for any local bus service in England. (This includes the London buses!) The pass is free to anyone who has resided in the UK for at least six months — easy for me to show, because my UK driving licence, one year old, has my address on it — but you have to give them a passport-style photo, and that costs £5 in a photo booth. (You’re not supposed to smile, but I think it’s just that you’re not supposed to show your teeth, and I’m happy that I managed to get a faint smile into mine.) After my pass arrived, I took it in and paid £12 to have one year’s travel on the Tyne and Wear Metro (same hours) added on to it.

Folks, this is an incredible deal, especially for people who live in a city such as Newcastle, which is very well served by local buses and not badly served by a subway/light-rail line (Newcastle’s goes directly to the airport, for example). My pass arrived on Tuesday, I used it for the first time on Wednesday night, and in less than 48 hours it saved me more in bus fare than the £5 I spent on the photo. Now, I admit that two of the bus journeys I took were for trips I probably would have done on foot if I hadn’t had the pass, but in my defense I’ll note that those bus trips saved me at least half an hour and I spent that time working on my thesis.

One thing I like about the UK is that senior pricing generally starts at age 60. You are probably aware that I’m a little beyond 60 at this point, so you may be asking why I didn’t get this pass until now, especially since Nexus calls it the card “for people over 60”. Well, UK residents used to become eligible for these passes as soon as they turned 60. Several years ago, however, the government started increasing the age of eligibility, such that for every month your birthday is later, you have to wait an extra two months to get your travel pass. For example, my friend Sue is four months older than I am and she’s had her pass eight months longer.

I do have to be careful not to let this make me lazy.

Sussing the buses

It took me several months to brave the Newcastle-area bus system. I would walk along Sandyford Road and watch the “Cobalt Clipper” rush by, exotic-sounding names of area villages painted on its side. They mixed with buses labelled Arriva and Stagecoach and Go North East. Most of the buses went straight but one route turned left onto Portland Road. How was I to find out which one(s) would take me where I wanted to go? How would I know how much to pay?

Finding out where they went was not easy. The bus companies put out timetables, but those do not include route maps and I found them terribly daunting. (I still find them somewhat cryptic, but now that I know the area a little better I’m less intimidated.) The website has a facility for showing bus stops and identifying which buses stop there, but it’s hard to use. And the route planner doesn’t work at all, mostly. Ugh.

It was finally a fellow choir member who got me started. This singer, whom I’ll call Jane, lives near me and told me that I wanted either the 1 or the 38 bus. So one evening after choir I went to where she said they stopped. I saw a 1 bus approaching a stop across the street, so I crossed the road and hailed the driver. He told me he was going the opposite way from where I wanted to go, but he didn’t have far to go in that direction and I could just stay on while he turned around, and then I’d be going in the right direction. So I did.

But then he didn’t go nearly as close to the flat as I had expected from what Jane had said. So I got off at the closest point (fortunately I knew where I was and most of Newcastle is fairly safe to walk at night) and walked home. I certainly didn’t save myself any time or walking that night!

Well. It turns out that there are TWO Route 1 buses. The one I had taken belongs to Go North East, and the one I wanted belongs to Stagecoach.

You’d think the city (or in this case, the county, as it’s the Tyne and Wear bus system) would require different routes to have different numbers. But noooo…

Anyhow, the following week I took the 38 home, and that broke the ice.

I took buses a lot over the spring, especially when it rained. (Which it did. A LOT.) And I learned. From my closest stop to the center of town they cost £1.30 (Arriva), £1.40 (Stagecoach), or £1.45 (Cobalt Clipper, Go North East). (Note to American friends: £1.30 is about $2.10.) Not cheap, but they cut my time in half (considering the wait) and cut my walking distance by 75% or more, depending on where I’m going. I soon developed a pattern: Arriva for the north end of the center, Cobalt Clipper only if I didn’t have time to wait for Arriva, and Stagecoach for points further south (such as the train station).

In the nice weather of the summer I greatly reduced my bus-riding frequency. Now I use the bus mostly for getting home from Grainger Market with my twice-weekly fruit&veg purchase (sometimes I also buy chicken, eggs, and/or milk) or for getting home from choir rehearsal if I am feeling too tired to walk the mile and a quarter. I suspect that my frequency might increase again, a little, but I don’t see it going back to what it was in the spring. I like how I feel when I walk.

And this week Arriva reduced its prices. Twice yesterday, I was charged only £1 to get home from the Haymarket Bus Station. They were two different drivers, and both said that when they punched in my destination it came up £1. One even said he thought they had in fact reduced the fare. So it has to be right. Who ever said companies never lower prices?

Oh — and it turns out you don’t have to know how much to pay. You just tell the driver where you want to get off and he (or she, but it’s usually a he) tells you the fare. You plunk down your money, and if it’s too much he gives you change. Easy peasy.

(It does help to know how much it should be, because sometimes they hear you wrong and try to charge you too much. Then you know you have to say your destination more clearly. But the same start and end points with the same bus company is always the same price. No rush-hour surcharge on the buses.)

Traffic, there and here

I’m in the US for the first time in five months. I’ve borrowed a car for three days, but mostly I’m walking and Metro-ing around. The biggest surprise in all of this is that when I walk I find myself tending to look first for traffic in the direction from which it would come in the UK (which is mostly from the right). I don’t find this on the Metro, though; I still look for trains to come from their usual US direction.

Interestingly enough, I’m not having any discombobulation of this sort in driving. I’m guessing it’s because my past five months in the UK have involved a lot of walking but no driving. So the habits I’m developing for being a pedestrian have not translated to being a driver.

Flight booked!

I’ve booked my flight to London! I had several considerations in deciding how to get myself across the Pond* and (if I end up going to Northumbria) how to get myself to Newcastle from there. I had three major concerns:

  • when I have to be there
  • how much stuff I can take with me
  • how much time it will take to get my house ready to rent

Both universities’ terms officially start on 1 October (which is a Monday this year), but for a PhD student that’s less relevant because we don’t take courses and don’t have to be in class. I’ve been assured that later in October will be fine. So I investigated the various options and came to a conclusion:

I’m flying first class!

It actually turns out to be my most reasonable option, believe it or not. I’ve got enough United** miles for a one-way saver award ticket in first class (only a little over twice as much as a saver award in Economy). First class allows me to check three 50lb. bags free, which will provide for getting a reasonable amount of my stuff there, and it should allow me to sleep fairly well on the flight. (I don’t sleep well in United’s biz class because the seat angle hurts my back and I can’t turn sideways. First class seats lie flat.)

For this purpose it’s important that I take an overnight flight — it will be far easier to proceed to my final destination in the daytime, whether that be London or Newcastle — but the earliest available overnight first-class saver award seat was for 3 October, and it would have me change planes in Chicago and lengthen my total travel time by about six hours. Not very convenient.

So I’ve booked the flight for October 17. In addition to allowing more time for the house to be finished, this delay will have the added benefit of expanding my planned house-finishing/going-away party with a 60th birthday party at home. Also, it will allow for the floors to be refinished in an empty house after I leave and before any tenants might arrive. I’ll tell the rental agents to advertise occupancy for 1 November instead of 1 October.

I’ve never flown first class before, and I doubt I ever will again. In addition to being the most practical for my needs on this particular trip, I feel it’s a fitting way to say hello to a new adventure. Wish me buon viaggio!


*Not whether to go by plane or canoe, of course.

**USAirways, may grackles peck eternally at their pea-picking little hearts, limits the use of miles to round-trip tickets.

Google Maps used to give directions from Washington to London by telling you to drive to New York and then canoe across the Atlantic. Sadly, that feature seems to have been discontinued.