THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

No ride, no escape from angry bus driver

Passengers tell of long standstill

Email|Print| Text size + By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / December 13, 2007

The passengers on a New York-to-Boston Peter Pan bus Sunday afternoon heard an announcement that few travelers expect to hear. The bus would idle at a Framingham layover for an extra half-hour - and nobody was allowed to get off.

The reason, the driver bitterly told his passengers, was that one of them had called the company dispatcher to complain that the driver had been swerving during the first leg of the trip.

"Since you aggravated me, I'm going to aggravate you," the driver told them, according to Brian Moore, 21, an Emerson College junior returning to Boston after a visit with his girlfriend in New York. At another point, the driver proclaimed, "One bad apple spoils the bunch."

"At the time, everyone thought he was kidding because he looked [at passengers with] kind of like this crazed, creepy smile," said Leigh Schuelke, 23, an event planner from Cambridge who was on the Peter Pan bus with her husband.

But kidding he was not. When one passenger, a man, walked to the front of the bus and asked to get off and reclaim his luggage, the driver peered at his ticket for Boston and replied, "I can't get your bags."

He ignored the pleas from a pregnant passenger in the name of her unborn child. He ignored plaintive apologies on behalf of the unknown rider who reported him. He ignored the argument that the complainer might not even be on the bus.

Want to smoke a cigarette outside? Stretch? Buy snacks in the terminal? No, no, and no, the driver said. This was punishment, he repeated.

"He explained it to us over and over," Schuelke said. "He seemed to be enjoying, just like sticking it to us."

The driver told passengers that he had clearance from the dispatcher to hold the bus at the Framingham terminal, according to three passengers -- Moore, Schuelke, and Schuelke's husband, James, 23, a Harvard law student.

A half-hour later, the driver finally threw the bus into gear, racing down the Massachusetts Turnpike above the speed limit, flying through tollbooths, Leigh Schuelke recalled.

No one called Peter Pan from the bus during the delay, but Moore and Leigh Schuelke sent letters of complaint to the company. Moore also posted his letter, with a detailed account of the experience on his personal blog and on a social networking site, LiveJournal. It was picked up by the website Universal Hub. Along the way, it drew comments from kindred spirits.

Peter Pan Bus Lines' director of safety and security, Christopher Crean, said he has suspended the driver and is investigating the incident.

"If any of this came even close to happening, the driver could in some cases be subject to termination," Crean said. "It's definitely become an issue. And the more I dig, the less I like."

Crean did not release the driver's name, but said he was in his early 30s and had three years on the job.

The bus left the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York at 1 p.m. Sunday. It arrived in Framingham at 4:35, which would have put it in Boston about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. On weekdays, the bus must wait an extra 25 minutes to pick up other passengers, but Sunday drivers can go straight through to Boston, Crean said.

Crean said the driver acknowledged that a dispatcher had contacted him during the trip and told him that a passenger was complaining. The driver, he said, denied retaliating against the passengers and explained that he stopped in Framingham simply because he did not know he could continue on immediately to Boston, Crean said.

Crean also received what he described as an atypical handwritten letter from a third passenger, faxed to him with no return address or phone number, praising the driver for acting "respectfully and courteously" despite "agitated" passengers.

Attempts by the Globe and Peter Pan to reach the woman whose signature was on the letter were unsuccessful.

Moore, a film major, said some friends have suggested the incident at Framingham would make a good script.

"It would be like 'Speed,' " he said, "but maybe a little more boring because it wouldn't be moving."

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.

Brian Moore, 21, an Emerson College junior, sent a letter of complaint to the company and posted a detailed account of the experience on his personal blog.

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