A local bus system came under some scrutiny last week after one of its drivers asked a customer to remove his hat bearing a political message.
‘The Ride’ is run by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska which contracts with The Center for Community to provide public transportation for the city.
Gerry Hope is the transportation director for Sitka Tribe of Alaska. He says the driver objected to the hat as the customer was boarding the bus.
“A passenger, a customer was getting on board the bus, and there was a political affiliation hat,” he said. “[There] was a little bit of a dialogue between the customer and driver.”
Hope says it was a MAGA hat — that’s Make America Great Again, the slogan that rose to prominence during the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. He says the driver apparently took issue with the hat and asked the customer why he was wearing it.
“The driver asked ‘what’s up with the hat?’ The person responded about not liking the ‘different party’ but there was no further dialogue than that,” Hope said. “The driver did ask that if the person were to ride that he was going to ask the passenger take off the hat.”
But federal transportation regulations, which The Ride abides by, provide protections for all individuals. That includes displays of support for political groups or organizations on your person or clothing. Hope says a complaint was filed. Then staff met with the driver and determined next steps.
“The driver is still driving,” he said. “We gave the driver the “Declaration of Prohibition of Discrimination” that lists a number of things, including no discrimination based on political affiliation. And also we’re going to have a drivers meeting.”
Hope says they’ll emphasize customer service at that meeting, and he says they also posted the list of protections for passengers on The Ride’s buses. He has been traveling for work, but he says that The Ride’s transportation coordinator Sabrina Smith made contact with and apologized to the customer. KCAW has not been able to locate the customer for comment.
Hope says they appreciate every customer and he hopes the steps they’ve taken ensure a similar situation doesn’t occur again.