Street Stories: Ingrid Veronica Bentsen

Name, age, any personal identities you feel like sharing, neighborhood where you live, who you live with/care for, the school you go to, type of work you do or hope to do.

My name is Ingrid Veronica Bentsen, age 71 plus. I have been a resident of Smith Hill in Providence, RI for nearly fifty years. I don’t live alone, because I have the Lord God with me. I suffered emotional trauma during childhood. Then I became physically disabled, which has necessitated my use of a walker. Nevertheless, my disability doesn’t stop me from practicing my work as a writer and photographer.

I worked as a Mental Health Advocate in the Rhode Island State House on a legislative committee overseen by Charles Feldman. As such, I gave some speeches about the needs of mental health constituents to the RI State Legislature.

How do you typically travel around Providence? Is that working for you? How does it affect your life, your job, your family?

I typically ride RIPTA buses to get places unless I’m taking the MTM van to a doctor’s appointment. The bus travel often affects me badly. There are no legitimate seats on the bus available to people who have walkers. If you do get a seat, you have to hold on for dear life to your walker. The disabled seats are no longer available, presumably to keep us socially distant because of COVID. However, able-bodied persons who board the bus are permitted to occupy, to stand in the space in the front of the bus, with virtually no social distancing! And if someone with a wheelchair boards the bus, they automatically get a seat in the open area where the handicapped seats used to be. When you have a walker, you’re at the mercy of both the bus driver and fellow passengers. If the driver doesn’t vouch for you, or a passenger refuses to give up their seat for a disabled person, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Most drivers do little or nothing to accommodate a passenger with a walker.

What are your views on how the elimination of Kennedy Plaza as the Central Bus Hub will affect yourself and the people you know?

The elimination of Kennedy Plaza as the Central Bus Hub would cause an undue hardship on passengers with walkers and others. We have a hard enough time trying to get a seat on the bus, as it is. And our having to travel needlessly from bus to bus compounds the inconvenience we already experience.

Kennedy Plaza needs clean restrooms accessible to the disabled, with infant changing stations and plenty of soap, water, and paper towels. It needs to be well-lit and monitored by security staff for the safety of children and others.

Do you feel safe when traveling around Providence? Where do you feel safe, and where do you not?

I don’t feel safe at Kennedy Plaza. It would help if there were at least two advocates for the homeless, who frequent the bus hub, around the clock.

RIPTA tends to pack its buses like cans of sardines. There’s little or no regard for social distancing. Alternate seats are not roped off, as they are in a doctor’s office, so people know they shouldn’t sit there. People pile on the buses and sit anywhere they feel like. The handicapped area of old is flooded with able-bodied persons who congregate freely in the front of the bus. Although people with walkers can no longer sit in this area, presumably because of the dangers of Covid-19.

Just the other day, a male passenger was standing next to me, in the aisle, holding his shopping bag over my head! Shopping carts take the places that should be allotted to those with walkers. Mothers with small children are hard-pressed to find suitable seats for themselves and their young ones.

Getting on or off the bus with a walker is particularly challenging. The bus driver seldom motions to would-be passengers to wait until the walkers get on or off. For example, I was trying to get off the bus with my walker, when a lady boarded the bus right in front of me. I stood my ground, and my walker struck the woman, all because she wouldn’t let me get off the bus. This was after I loudly proclaimed that I was getting off the bus. The driver did not stop the lady from getting on the bus. My walker is rather large and cumbersome. I have a sore arm in addition. So that made it impossible for me to get out of the way. The driver did nothing to help me. It was a crowded situation which could not be prevented, except for the driver’s failure to inform the person trying to get on the bus to wait, because someone with a walker needed to get off the bus.

What could RIPTA have done to accommodate all its passengers fairly, while enforcing social distancing at every moment of the journey by bus? Let me know if you find out the good word on the subject.

How could the City or RIPTA improve your experience getting around?

RIPTA needs to have a healthy respect for the frail and the elderly, especially people with walkers. Will RIPTA rise to the occasion by showing respect and concern for people who have walkers as well as others? How will RIPTA change its behavior toward passengers with walkers? Will the bus company come to our aid anytime soon?