On June 1, 2011, I was kicked off of a Bolt Bus going from Philadelphia to NYC because I had my service dogs (two mini-dachshunds weighing about 10lbs each) completely contained in their Sherpa travel bag that airlines approve for animal travel. I have been using Bolt Bus, Mega Bus, Amtrak, even Grey Hound for a couple of years to travel to and from Philadelphia with my dogs. I have NEVER had a problem or a complaint. They are very well behaved and quiet unless they need to alert me to something.
Before boarding, I showed the bus driver my ticket on my phone and she said that I was good to board. I was traveling with two bags on a collapsible stroller as I have done. My personal bag is about the same size as my Sherpa bag. The bus driver suggested that I store my bags under the bus but obviously that wasn't an option. In addition to carrying my animals with me, I had all of my HIV medications, anti-seizure medications, asthma allergy and pain medications in the bag as well as my computer, and a couple of cameras and my school finals I was planning on working on during the trip. She asked me where I was going to put my bags and I said one would go above me and the other on my lap. There was plenty of room on the bus as it was not remotely full and they were allowing standby passengers on. So I can't imagine there was a lack of space. When I started to board the stairs, the driver stopped me and said "Wait a minute...you have animals?" I said yes...and she said that no animals were allowed on the bus. I told her that I'd never had a problem before and had been traveling on Bolt Bus often and never been told that. She told me that only service animals were allowed on the bus. When I told her that they were service animals, she asked me where my documentation was. I didn't have any with me because it had never been an issue and by law they are not allowed to ask for documentation. I explained to her that I lived in New York and needed to get back to get my medications refilled as I was down to 1 anti-seizure pill left and that I go to school in NYC. She told me that she didn't care and got increasingly hostile with me in front of the public and stated that I was not getting on the bus and that neither Amtrak, Megabus or Greyhound would allow "pets" onboard.
I asked her how I was supposed to get back to New York and she said she didn't care. I asked to speak to a supervisor. One was called over and she reiterated that "no pets" were allowed on board. I told her they were service animals and she wanted to see my documentation. I told her I didn't know I had to carry any with me for their commuter bus service. She said it was on the Bolt Bus website and that I needed to make special reservations to ride the bus with a service animal and she refused to make any exceptions. Again I asked how I was supposed to get back home and was told that she didn't care. She then looked it up on her phone on the Bolt Bus website and said it is blatantly displayed on the website that no pets are allowed. I told her they weren't pets and the bus driver piped in saying that I told her they were pets initially which I did not. I was not given a chance to. Then the supervisor told me that I had to make a special reservation 24 hours in advance to travel on Bolt Bus with a service animal which would also be a violation of the ADA. I was told that I had to call in to get a disabled ticket (which costs more than booking a ticket online) and needed to provide medical documentation.
I was growing more and more upset and embarrassed as it was in the 90s and I just wanted to go home and I was being unreasonably denied access to a bus for which I had already reserved a seat and paid in full as I had done many times before. I reluctantly went into my personal bag, by this time shaking, I pulled out my HIV and epilepsy medication and showed them to her and specifically showed her that I only had one epilepsy pill left. She said she didn't care, that she wasn't a pharmacist, and that my pets were not allowed on board.
I then called the police at 911 and requested assistance. While waiting for the police to arrive. I asked to know the names of these two woman and they both refused to give me any sort of id as to who they were or that they worked for bolt bus. The bus driver went off to the side to call a supervisor and tried to have me get on the phone with them but I declined. I said that I wanted to wait for the police to get there. During that time I had a man and a woman seperately approach me and tell me that I was holding up the bus and that there was no way they were going to let me on the bus with my dogs. The one man claimed he had two beagles and the other woman was just angry that I was holding up the bus and she confronted me. I told her to mind her own business and we got into a brief argument. I told her she should speak to the bolt bus employees and not me. I actually ended up explaining to the man, a complete stranger who introduced himself to me as Matt and again reiterated that I was holding everyone up. I told him that I had seizures and HIV/AIDS and needed to get back to nyc to get refills and that I had showed them my medications but they refused to accept that as any sort of proof and he said that was different and that in that case he would have looked the other way and allowed me and my dogs to board the bus, but that I was still holding everyone up by having them wait for the police.
Since these women wouldn't give me any id or employee id I took their pictures on my camera phone which really angered the 1st supervisor and she went off on me saying that its illegal for me to take a photo of her and why was I taking pictures of her. I explained that she wouldn't show me her id, was barring me from boarding the bus and having me disclose my confidential medical information in front of the general public and even that wasn't acceptable to her.
Another male 'supervisor' arrived and he seemed a little more reasonable but would not budge on the subject. The bus driver told him that I told her they were pets and he went with that information and said that I could not ever board a bolt bus with pets. They told me it was federal law that I could not board the bus with animals. The man said that Bolt Bus would be responsible if another passenger went into convulsions because they were allergic to my pets and they could get sued and that is their policy. That statement also does not coincide with the ADA requirements because anyone traveling with service animals is solely responsible for their behavior and NOT the busline.
Bolt Bus makes claims that all reservations are guaranteed and that you can eat and drink on board. So I guess its ok to bring peanuts on board but not "pets." I reiterated to this man that I had medical conditions and showed him my medications which he didn't want to see. While I was doing that the bus driver started telling the public who was waiting for other buses on the street that "someone probably told me what to say in case there was an issue". This infuriated me! The male supervisor then started to ask me if I was in any programs. I said yes and he wanted to know which ones. I told him that I was in ADAP and had just recently been on HASA until my unemployment appeal was granted. This information didn't phase him. Then he told me that he had asked the two ladies to allow me on the bus but they had refused because "I had gotten angry and given them attitude".
The police finally arrived and I explained it to them and they said that I wasn't allowed to travel with animals and there was nothing they could do...they suggested I wait for the following bus and try to get on, but obviously the supervisors weren't going to allow that. I had to show the police my new york state id...a non-drivers id and my other ids and my welfare benefits and food stamps id to prove i was in these programs. I even showed them my healthfirst insurance card which is a managed care HIV insurance program. The male supervisor told me that I would have to call customer service and get a refund. I took his picture because he also wouldn't give me his name at first other than John. When I took his picture he tried to cover his face and got angry. I asked him for his full name and employee id and he refused to give it to me just repeatedly saying his name was john, then johnny, then john johnny and when I questioned the likelihood that his name was in fact " John Johnny" he suddenly changed it to "Johnny joseph".
So the bus took off. The police left after taking down my id and phone number and the id of the bus employees. I was left to go back and buy another ticket from philadelphia to trenton and then the local from trenton to nyc which cost me 2.5 times what I paid for the bolt bus ticket and took me what would have been a 3 hour trip to get home to a 6 hour trip. I feel humiliated and so angry over this unreasonable treatment. Its inexcuseable to me to be treated like this with such disrespect and public humiliation and absolute refusal by Bolt Bus employees to look or consider the evidence I was providing.
I emailed Bolt Bus while traveling on NJ transit for a refund and received an email stating that they would not refund my money because their website clearly states that no animals are to be transported on any of their buses which is different than what the other people were telling me. I then called them personally and spoke to a customer service rep named Bruce who sounded so annoyed with my complaint that he claims he was going to refund my money and also insisted that I needed to have medical documentation that I needed these animals and needed to show it on demand.
The male supervisor had previously told me that when I called in to book my ticket that I just needed to tell them I had service animals and they would give me a special ticket. When I asked if that was all I needed to do and he said yes, I questioned him about it because just because I tell a rep on the phone that I have service animals doesn't show them proof and then he changed his story and said I'd still need to show proof before I board.
I apologize for the lengthy email here but there are a lot of details I felt I needed to explain. I am furious! I need to travel economically to and from Philadelphia and NYC and now my method of transport is being taken away from me. I got home last night and developed an awful migraine during the night and ended up spending an hour vomiting in my bathroom tub and trying to feel better for school in the am.
I am annoyed that these people refused to provide me with specific details about what I needed to provide them so that my transport would be acceptable for them and were so unwilling to even look or consider the evidence I was presenting. I am more annoyed that they needed medical evidence and I am a licensed independent medical provider in New York and Pennsylvania and carry active licenses in both states.
I emailed Bolt Bus customer service for specific details about traveling with service animals and received a lengthy response stating that those with service animals are allowed anywhere that Bolt Bus travels etc...and that I did not need to provide documentation. When I responded and detailed my experience to this person in customer service and attached my photos of the employees, my ids, my medications, and the ADA policies I didn't even get a response. So now what? I have reserved another ticket for tonight because I cannot continue to afford to travel by Amtrak and called ahead to order a special disabled ticket (which aggravates me to have to do that when I just want to live my life as a regular person as best I can). I have also booked an Amtrak ticket just in case I am refused service again.