Updated July 13
A Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) bus driver was fired after refusing to pick up a man who is black, the bus service said Thursday in a prepared statement.
Kevin Brooks, a barber who commutes to the Island from New Bedford, and regularly takes the VTA, was waiting to take the bus from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs after getting out of work.
Brooks told the Times he flagged down the Route 13 bus on Beach Road near Oakdale Drive in Edgartown, but it drove past him. Brooks said the buses will usually tell him they are at capacity.
Having to catch the 5:20 pm ferry out of Oak Bluffs to New Bedford, Brooks immediately called an Uber to Oak Bluffs. Arriving shortly after the bus, Brooks confronted the driver and asked why he passed him. The driver replied, “Well, it’s because you are black.”
Saying he’s been called “everything under the sun” throughout his life, Brooks told the Times this comment was different: “I am from the South. If I feel racism I deal with it. For the first time in my life I had to swallow it. I’ve never felt more disrespected or belittled in my life. I had trouble sleeping that night.”
It was the first time he has experienced such a comment on the Island, and an emotional Brooks then called the VTA, which said they would look into the matter and give him an answer by the end of the day Thursday.
“Upon review of the onboard audio/video footage, it was determined the vehicle operator responded to the person’s inquiry by saying the bus was full, and when the person challenged this response, the operator stated, ‘Well, it’s because you are black,’” according to the VTA release.
The VTA said it has a “zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior,” and that the bus driver was then fired. The Times reached out to the VTA about the incident on Thursday morning, but did not hear back until Friday afternoon. Instead, the transit company issued the press statement.
VTA administrator Angie Grant told the Times Friday she spoke with Brooks Thursday evening to apologize and inform him that the male bus driver had been fired. Grant declined to give the driver’s name, adding that she was not the driver’s direct supervisor and could not speak on his history with the VTA or if any complaints about him had been filed before. VTA employees receive annual training that covers interaction with the public.
A request for information on complaints, employee evaluations, and public records of the driver was denied by the VTA.
Grant said in her nearly 20 years at the VTA, she had never seen an incident like this. “We have never had to deal with this. I’m hopeful that something like this will never occur again,” Grant said.
When asked if the VTA offered any reimbursement to Brooks for his Uber ride, Grant said, “He did not ask for that,” and that he is always welcome to contact the VTA.
Saying he never wants to take someone’s job or livelihood, Brooks said he will always stand up for himself and what is right. “Maybe he was having a bad day and the wrong thing came out of his mouth,” Brooks said, adding he doesn’t believe the driver is a racist. “I’m not about any drama at all. I just want to provide for my family. I’m not here for a political debate.”
Going forward, Brooks said, he has contacted the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and a civil rights attorney to look into the matter: “The video shows everything, that’s all I’ll say. This isn’t over, I want to get this out there.”
Updated with more details from the VTA. -Ed.