‘He was wailing’: Man with Down syndrome refused pickup by transit driver, family calls for change

The VIAtrans driver told Hugo Gonzales he needed his VIA ID to enter the bus. Hugo had misplaced the card, but was not offered an alternative identification option.

SAN ANTONIO — A transportation agency known for its accessibility was anything but when a longtime rider with special needs was refused pick-up.

It happened on Friday, April 28.

On weekdays, Hugo Gonzales rides a paratransit bus to and from an adult day care. It’s a special service for those who can’t use a regular bus due to a disability.

Hugo has Down Syndrome. The transit gives him freedom and independence. However, Hugo’s routine of more than a decade was disrupted when a VIAtrans driver said she couldn’t allow him on the bus without his VIAtrans ID.

“When they wouldn’t let you on the bus, did that hurt your feelings?” David Gonzales asked his brother.

Hugo nodded.

“You were crying, weren’t you?” David asked.

Hugo nodded.

“Yes,” said David. “You were very upset.”

Hugo sometimes misplaces his VIA ID card, according to David. However, Hugo has other forms of government ID, and David says the driver had picked him up in the past.

The incident was caught on David’s Ring camera. In the video, you can hear the driver saying, “I can’t take you if you don’t have your VIA ID.”

David, hearing the commotion, opens the door. The driver then says, “Sir, he doesn’t have his VIA ID. And yesterday, they canceled his trip. If he doesn’t have his VIA ID, I can’t take him.”

“When did that start?” David asked her.

“Yesterday,” she responded.

“Why didn’t anyone inform me?” David asked.

“That … I don’t know,” the driver said.

“So, you’re going to leave him?” David asked.

“Yep!” she replied.

The driver told David she couldn’t wait more than a few minutes for Hugo to search for his VIA ID.

“Hugo needs routine,” said David. “If I even change his appointment for a doctor’s visit, he gets upset. It really stresses him out. So, when she refused to let him on the bus, my brother was wailing and crying and hanging onto the bus. Eventually I had to pull him off. I went inside to change because I knew I was going to have to drop him off, and he took off walking. He was so determined to get to the day care, he made if four blocks.”

David says the abrupt change could have been dangerous. If he hadn’t been home, he doesn’t know what would have happened.

David told KENS 5 a staff member at the adult day care Hugo attends informed him about 20 other riders were also refused pick-up last week.

“I want to know why caretakers weren’t notified,” said David. “I would have complied with whatever he needed, had I known about it in advance. In those situations where [people] lose their VIA ID, [VIAtrans] should have a backup plan to where they can use a regular ID.”

It seems the driver may have been in the wrong, according to VIAtrans policy.

A spokesperson for VIAtrans released the following statement:

For customer safety and to ensure our operators can accurately manage their scheduled pick-ups and drop-offs, VIAtrans customers are required to show their ID card or another form of official identification when boarding. Operators will remind passengers to carry their VIAtrans ID as the preferred card. This policy has been in place since the inception of VIAtrans paratransit services. The ID requirement ensures the safety and security of VIAtrans passengers. An orientation session and review of service guidelines and features are provided to all VIAtrans clients and their guardians or caretakers as a requirement of enrolling in the service. You can access the Paratransit Rider’s Guide on our website: VIAtrans Paratransit Rider’s Guide (viainfo.net). Policies and protocols are reenforced as part of operators’ continuing education and training.”

“Hopefully they start making some changes that won’t break [riders’] hearts,” David said.

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