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[whitespace] Man and Dog on Bus
If This Dog Could Talk, We'd Write a Story About Him, Too: But for now all we got is talking buses. By the way, that's Fahmy Ma'Awad and his dog Yale.


Bus Talk

Riding the bus is going to be a whole lot chattier this fall. Not because that cute guy you see all the time on Route 3A is finally going to talk to you, but because 64 talking buses are coming to town.

The buses, which use compressed gas and cost $350,000 a piece, come with a satellite-controlled system that lets them announce individual stops over a speaker system while spelling out the same info on a rolling display board. In fact, soon the only time buses around here won't be running their mouths is when, as Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District operations manager Bryant Baehr explains, "your bus goes off route."

We assume he's talking about alien abductions, which have kept us more than once from getting to Natural Bridges on time, but that's a story for another time.

Nüz caught up with Baehr as members of the Metro Access Services Task Force were giving him feedback about announcers' voices for the new system.

"That's Bryant's voice, I don't like it, throw that one out," joked one visually impaired passenger, while another said she preferred a female announcer. "It's soothing, like a mother reading to her child," she said.

With only two weeks before talking buses roll through the district, Baehr's duties include trying to squeeze 1,500 stop announcements into the time it takes passengers to ring the bell and the bus to slow down between stops.

Because of these physical barriers, says Baehr, it looks like only 80-90 percent of stops on the list will be announced. That's got some members of the disabled community launching a lawsuit based on the provisions of the American Disabilities Act, which requires transit districts to "announce at least transfer points with other fixed routes, other major intersections, and destination points, and intervals along a route sufficient to permit individuals with visual impairments or other disabilities to be oriented to their location."

Ed Kramer, a visually impaired MASTF member, thinks the new buses are great, but he says getting the buses has been "a long process." Instrumental in getting that process kick-started has been Fahmy Ma'Awad, a Cabrillo College computer instructor who rides the bus with his seeing-eye dog, Yale.

Ma'Awad describes Yale as "a well-educated black German shepherd who was in the same class as Bush, the difference being that Yale graduated." Yet for all his education, Yale can't announce stops on request--an ADA provision that not all drivers have complied with--leading Ma'Awad to urge the district "to get the technology and let the driver do nothing but driving."

"What's really bad about a blind person missing their stop is they have to get off the bus and cross the street where there may not be an audible crosswalk. It's a big problem," says Ma'Awad.

But though he knows firsthand the problems of being blind, Ma'Awad doesn't favor hiring sharks.

"I prefers to catch things with honey," says Ma'Awad, who participated in MASTF for three years.

"Motions to get stops announced kept getting made and filed away, so in May 2001, I gave the SCMTD 90 days notice to get the stops announced. I asked their help, but warned that after that, anyone from the community would be free to take legal action."

Three months later, the SCMTD voted for talking buses, and by fall 2003, 80 percent of the fleet will be equipped with the technology, at a total cost of $1 million. But that didn't prevent the stop-related lawsuit.

"I'm not part of that legal action, because I believe we can approach this through compromise," says Ma'Awad. "I express my gratitude for the buses, which they already have in Tokyo, San Francisco and Texas."

For the record, Nüz thinks the second coolest thing about the way this is catching on is that now when crazy people everywhere talk to the buses, the buses may very well talk back. Now that's full service!

Anniversary Angst

Dan Dickmeyer used to celebrate his birthday not with a wild party but with a very pleasant lunch. This year he's not so sure, since his birthday falls on Sept. 11.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year--it depends if it becomes an excruciating media event that will make it less significant as a birthday. But then again, out of all the people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, someone surely had a birthday that day. It's daunting to think that I'm alive, and they're not," says Dickmeyer, who, tragedy notwithstanding, lunched at the Crow's Nest last year.

"I can't believe I did that. I imagine I was in shock. But this Sept. 11, I can't imagine lunch will be much fun. But what about Pearl Harbor Day? People eventually got back to normal. The year after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake there were a lot of memorials, but we are so far away from New York, which also was why I could go out last year."

Dickmeyer notes that some people are worried that children will no longer associate 911 with calling to get help, because the number looks so much like 9/11.

"When people say Sept 11, they can't associate the number with anything but a disaster, which also spoils the day for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. But I'm sure I can pull off something. Unless the Iraq thing happens, in which case I'll be out on the streets demonstrating."

No Exceptions

The Downtown Commission's 4-2 vote to not give the City Council a list of "exemptions" to new downtown ordinances sounds like a cry for help, the comish's way of saying, "We're confused about the ramifications of all these restrictions, not to mention added ramifications of making exemptions before we know what said restrictions mean."

With the comish asking the council to hold off enforcement for another 60 days, the Redevelopment Agency's Julie Hendee reports that merchants whose shops are next to the proposed exempted areas were asked for approval or disapproval.

The following disapproved: Pacific Wave, Chocolate, Rouge, Dell Williams, Pacific Trading Company, Costa Brava, Rosie McCanns, East Meets West, New Leaf Market, Cotton Tales and Streetlight Records.

The following approved: Sushi Now, Hoffman's Bakery, Bookshop Santa Cruz, and Borders.

The side story here is that Bookshop Santa Cruz and Borders Books, after some bitter battling, are working together, a union that BSC owner Neal Coonerty suggests is due to booksellers being very sensitive to First Amendment questions.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the September 4-11, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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