Vineyarder Beth O’Connor and a bus driver for the Steamship Authority didn’t see eye to eye over radio choices aboard a Palmer Avenue bus Tuesday, and O’Connor let folks know it Tuesday afternoon through a post on SOSA, the Save Our Steamship Authority Facebook group.
“I just had a very bad experience with a Palmer Avenue bus driver,” O’Connor posted. “I told him it was inappropriate to play Rush Limbaugh radio trashing the people testifying at the impeachment hearings on a public bus with a captive audience, and he got all worked up and called me a liberal, and told me I was violating his First Amendment rights. It was downright scary. The guy directing the buses told him to back off. I don’t care what this guy believes, and I am all for him standing him up for his rights, but not on a public bus that my tax dollars pay for.”
The incident took place Tuesday on a shuttle bus ride from the SSA Palmer lot to the Woods Hole terminal. O’Connor told The Times she was seated a third of the way into the bus and could not tell if Limbaugh was emanating from a portable device or from a radio built into the bus.
“There were only about [five] people on the bus,” she wrote. “I asked the driver whose radio it was. And he said, ‘Mine — you got a problem with that?’”
The dispute comes as President Donald Trump is facing impeachment hearings for his alleged request that the Ukraine government investigate political rival Joseph Biden, with military aid hanging in the balance. The hearings are being televised live on several networks.
Limbaugh, a conservative radio host and staunch Trump booster, has heavily criticized the Ukraine investigation, as he did the Mueller investigation. Limbaugh and Trump are both residents of Palm Beach County, Florida.
SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said the ferry line tries to maintain an apolitical atmosphere. “As we do on the boats, we implement a ‘no politics’ rule for the radios on the buses, and have reminded our drivers of that,” he wrote in a text message. “Regarding the question of our employee’s conduct, we are closely reviewing the situation. I cannot comment beyond that, as it is a personnel matter.”
Despite her friction with the bus driver, whom she said wore a Paul M. name tag, O’Connor felt the SSA did a proper job of managing the situation once she got off the bus.
“[T]hey handled it extremely well, I thought,” she wrote. “The driver was very angry, and the other guy kept telling him to back off. The driver kept repeating that I was violating his First Amendment rights.”
O’Connor said she isn’t sure who the SSA employee was who interceded on her behalf.
“That guy was great,” she wrote. “I told him repeatedly what [the bus driver] listened to on his own time in his own home was none of my business, but he cannot do it on a public bus with a captive audience.”
At the SSA board’s January 2018 meeting, Steve Sayers, then general counsel, informed board members that news channels like Fox News, CNN, and PBS would no longer be shown due to complaints. Local news programs like NECN, sports, the Weather Channel, Food Channel, and Discovery Channel are acceptable, Sayers wrote at the time.
As for the latest dustup, commenters weighed in aplenty. Six hours after the thread was posted, there were more than 100 comments.
“As a cab driver I always change what I’m listening to in private to something more palatable when customers enter. Bus drivers should do the same,” Ed Cisek wrote.
“You are 100% right, and no doubt the defenders of the indefensible will say you are wrong but you’re not … And for the record, for anyone to trash a man with a Purple Heart and a distinguished service record truly MUST be a supporter of Cadet Bonespurs,” Scott Ryan wrote.
“She’s on a public bus,” Bobby Thompson wrote. “If you don’t like it, put headphones in. I go to the YMCA hearing total nonsense, and I just put my headphones in; problem solved.”
O’Connor said she’s never had a negative experience like that on an SSA bus. “They all seem like good people,” she wrote. “I am hopeful they have the entire thing on camera.”
Asked if he has been able to review video footage from inside the bus, Driscoll said he does not comment on SSA security matters, including cameras, and would not verify a camera exists in the bus.