Visually impaired woman left wandering alone after missing stop on HRT bus

Posted at 9:46 PM, Aug 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-02 21:46:06-04

Norfolk, Va. - A visually impaired woman says she did not know where she was after she missed her stop aboard an HRT bus. Once investigator Laurie Simmons brought her complaint to the agency, we immediately got results.

She just wanted to ride the 21 bus home, but the seemingly easy task is always a challenge for Wanda Gary, who is legally blind.

She relies on the intercom systems aboard HRT buses to tell her when to get off at her Wards Corner stop.

But for some reason last Tuesday, she didn't hear the announcement.

“I missed my stop, first time I’ve ever done that riding the bus,” says Gary.

That mistake landed her on busy Hampton Boulevard walking alone for hours, not knowing exactly how to get home.

It all started with a conversation with the bus driver.

“She said ma’am, ‘We passed Wards Corner a long time ago’, I said oh God,” says Gary.

Making matters worse, the bus was about to enter Norfolk Naval Base, and Mrs. Gary doesn't have a military ID.

“If you don’t have no ID to get on base, they are going to put you off the bus,” said the bus driver, heard on a video recording provided by HRT. "There is a Navy lodge across the street, there is a bus stop there."

"I started walking up the road, praying that I would get to a place where the bus would stop. I didn't know where I was going, really frustrating,” says Gary. ”It was a very scary feeling.”

Gary wandered up and down Hampton Boulevard for several hours, before some good Samaritans came to her aid.

The next morning, she called NewsChannel 3, asking us to take action and get answers from HRT about why she was left to fend for herself.

“We try our best to get around. It’s their job to be as professional and compassionate as they can,” says Gary.

Tom Holden is with HRT and once NewsChannel 3 told them about Gary's complaint, they invited our cameras into their control room to show us the video feed from that day.

And they quickly acknowledged their first mistake.

“The system that announces stops for the visually impaired was not operating properly, so we will fix that,” says Holden.

And when it came to Gary not being able to ride onto the military base...

“We think it would have been best to bring her to the gate of the base, if she had to get off there, make her wait, let the bus proceed through the base, and then come back and carry her on, where she needed to go, that would have been ideal. It wasn’t done that way. We will work harder next time,” says Holden.

HRT says their drivers do take sensitivity training four times a year, but they still always look for ways to improve.

“If there is a limitation to our service, we want to hear about it. This is an unfortunate combination of events, we are sorry she had such a difficult time,” says Holden.