Mountain Line Mea Culpa Not Enough, Bring Back The Benches!

by William Skink

Mountain Line’s General Manager, Corey Aldridge, issued a statement on their selective use of “leaning benches” and the controversy that ensued on social media after they were installed in 3 locations near the Poverello Center. The statement came despite the continued disinterest by the majority of local media. I believe ABC Fox has been the only local media outlet to report on this so far. 

Before getting to Aldridge’s statement, let’s take a look at what is considered a Mountain Line story worthy of some media attention. Missoula Current has an article about Mountain Line appointing a seasoned employee, Jennifer Sweten, to the position of Operations Manager. From the link:

Sweeten, who steps in at a time of growth, earned the Transportation Safety Institute’s Certification for Transit Safety and Security from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2017.

She was named Mountain Line’s safety and security officer the same year.

She also holds a safety and security director certification from the World Safety Organization.

“I’m thrilled for this opportunity,” Sweten said in a statement. “Missoula is a beautiful community to live and work in, and I look forward to serving our agency and our riders into the future.”

Now, to contrast the stellar work of someone who holds a safety and security director certification from the World Safety Organization, here is the statement from General Manager Corey Aldridge about why Mountain Line’s inability to deal with safety and security issues at three bus shelters has forced them to creatively redefine what constitutes a “bench”:

Mountain Line was recently made aware of complaints regarding leaning benches at three bus stops in our system. Our agency is always tasked with trying to balance the needs of various interests, and this balancing act is never easy. Accessibility and the safety of our riders are just a few of the concerns we grapple with everyday. The benches in question were installed at three bus shelters on W. Broadway in early 2018. This action was in response to frequent, almost daily, complaints at these shelters, from riders and local residents alike, of litter, public drunkenness, illicit drug use, and people sleeping in bus shelters. Missoula Police were contacted on several occasions to deal with individuals who refused to move at the request of our staff and became belligerent. Divided benches were used, but they were continually vandalized. Since the installation of the leaning benches, these problems have decreased substantially, but we may have unintentionally created another problem in its place.

In the past few days, many people, both in Missoula and elsewhere, have expressed their dislike of the design of these benches. Upon hearing the concerns of the public, it is apparent that our solution may have not been the best remedy to these problems. In response, we are examining other ways to ensure the safety of our riders while keeping our stops accessible and friendly. We ask for your patience we continue to work through this process and thank you to those who have voiced their concerns.

First, I think Aldridge may be confused about what constitutes a bench. A bench is something you sit on, and requires a long, flat surface on which a person places their respective butt. Mountain Line did not install benches, they removed benches and installed some hostile architecture to solve a problem that has apparently gotten so bad not even city police can effectively address it.

Which brings me to the second point, why is Mountain Line responding to criminal complaints regarding drug use in the first place? Have Mountain Line staff been deputized to police their own bus shelters? And why can’t police deal with this? Is Missoula PD over-extended? Is the jail full? WTF?

If local media was actually interested in this, there are other questions that need to be answered, like how did this decision get made in the first place? Was there a process that included public input? Mountain Line gets Federal funds, so must adhere to things like the Civil Rights Act. Was that even a consideration?

Now that this is starting to get some attention, the statement from Aldridge indicates awareness has percolated up to decision makers who realize they’ve created an unforced error that could, if not remedied, expose them to litigation.

The smart thing to do for Mountain Line is to bring back the benches and acknowledge the installation of leaning posts near a homeless shelter and specific housing for those with disabilities was a stupid response to the larger issues of addiction, mental illness and homelessness.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to Mountain Line Mea Culpa Not Enough, Bring Back The Benches!

  1. Pingback: Why The Loss Of The Missoula Indy Matters | Reptile Dysfunction

  2. Pingback: A Customer Complaint Against Mountain Line And Revisiting The Controversial “Leaning Benches” Installed In 2019 Because Homeless People | Reptile Dysfunction

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