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Serve the handicapped or be fired, drivers told

NEW YORK -- Buses with wheelchair lifts began operating Thursday in Manhattan and Brooklyn, despite driver protests, after a dramatic demonstration in which a crippled woman halted a bus for seven hours until the driver let her board.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority told union drivers they would be suspended if they failed to provide service to the handicapped.

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An MTA spokesman said one in every three buses on three routes in Manhattan and Brooklyn were to provide service for wheelchair passengers.

The service, originally scheduled to begin Wednesday, was delayed because of Transport Workers Union objections, the spokesman said.

The delay was highlighted when Denise McQuade, 33, crippled from the waist down, waged a seven-hour war of nerves Wednesday, refusing to let a Manhattan bus pass until its driver let her board by using a new wheelchair lift.

Police said she stopped an M104 bus about noon at 50th Street and Broadway. She rolled her wheelchair to the bus door and asked the driver to let her board through the rear wheelchair lift.

MTA officials said that as the driver tried to pull away, Ms. McQuade climbed out of her wheelchair and sat in the front entrance of the bus.

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The driver could not close the door and the bus simply stayed put.

Ms. McQuade rejected his appeals to get off. She ignored honking horns from stalled traffic behind the bus.

Just after 7 p.m., a supervisor arrived -- key in hand -- and let Ms. Mcquade and her wheelchair board via the lift.

Another handicapped woman held the windshield wipers of a different bus and blocked it for 15 minutes before police calmed her down.

MTA spokesman Thomas Huber said drivers who claimed they did not know how to operate the lift equipment would be trained on the spot. If they fail to serve handicapped passengers, he said, they will be suspended.

'This is not a laser surgical device,' Huber said. 'This is a lift.'

He said 3,000 bus drivers had already received a 30-minute training course explaining the operation of the lift.

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