It was on the 13th of August. I was trying to go home from the DeKalb subway station in downtown Brooklyn.
Now, for those who follow this tumblr, you know that getting stuck and/or lacking access to a subway car (in a wheelchair accessible station) is a risk you take every time you take the subway when you’re a customer in a wheelchair. Yes, even when you board within the designated boarding area, as suggested by the MTA. You risk damage to your chair and damage to yourself.
But something occurred to me that day. Something that made me realize this issue is much bigger then originally suspected.
Now, at this point, I categorize all subway car entrances into three categories. One has the absurdly high vertical gap, where you just know there is no way in hell, you can enter that subway car. The second is the ever lovely (though less common) flat entrance. There is not a doubt in your mind that you can enter here, because it’s just wonderfully and blatantly wheelchair accessible. Then there is that third category where you really have to try it to find out. Sometimes the result is a happy (though very bumpy) surprise, and other times, it’s just not accessible and you get stuck.
So, a Q train that pulls up. The entrance is in that gray area where it’s hard to tell by just looking at it. I had my doubts so I looked at the conductor for some sort of sign. He said “Go for it!”. “Yeah?” “Yeah, go for it!” with cheerful enthusiasm.
So when I took a chance and got stuck? Honestly, I just broke down and cried. I cried because I was so incredibly frustrated. This is supposed to be safe and once again it’s not, and not that this is anything new, but the fact is, it’s clearly a problem and the MTA keeps insisting there is no problem. So, what am I supposed to do? Yes, keep fighting till it’s get changed, which I will do, but what am I supposed to do in the meantime? When I am trying to get home and I can’t. Or I get stuck. Or I have to let 3 trains go by till one pulls that is accessible. It just gets to you after awhile.
(video of the motorized wheelchair getting stuck : http://bcove.me/em28vtfk)
Finally, the 4th subway pulled up to the station which was thankfully wheelchair accessible, but as I am riding home, my mind flashed back to the conductor. He was trying be helpful and was very friendly, but I began to wonder : The MTA says that passengers in wheelchairs should always board in the designated boarding area where the conductor can see you, so if you need extra help, the conductor can provide that**. But then here was a conductor who was doing his best, but his response didn’t suggest that he had received any kind of mobility assistance training.
And if the train crew weren’t being trained? Holy cow! That is not just madness, that’s outright dangerous. Dangerous for the wheelchair community and for the train crew. If my wheelchair gets stuck where it’s half way in the subway car and half way on the platform, the subway car doors will not (thankfully) be able to close. As a result, the train will not be able to (thankfully) move. At this point the conductor has to alleviate the situation. What’s the usual reaction? Let’s tilt back, push or lift the chair. However, without proper mobility assistance training, this is just an accident waiting to happen.
So, I contacted the TWU Local 100 (which is the union for the traincrew) to get an answer. After all, if the answer is no, then this is a problem for both communities.
What I found out was borderline shocking. Even for the MTA. There is no mobility assistance training provided for the NYC subway train crew. Furthermore, they were never even told that the MTA was offering their assistance.
This is just another example of the MTA’s absolute neglect for safety. It’s not right and they need to be held accountable. Join the campaign. Sign the petition (http://tiny.cc/MindTheGapMTA ) and fight back. Let the MTA know that it is not okay to put hard working people, to put paying customers at risk for injury and for the executives to simply turn the other cheek as if there isn’t a problem at all.
** “The MTA says the designated boarding areas it’s built are more level with the subway cars and they’re also within sight of the conductor, so riders who need extra help can ask for it. “ - http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/165624/ny1-exclusive—wheelchair-riders-getting-stuck-at-accessible-subway-stations
“Conductors can assist riders if they need it” - MTA spokeswoman Deidre Parker http://brooklyndaily.com/stories/2012/31/all_wheelchairsubwaygaps_2012_08_03_bk.html
A reporter brought this page to my attention. It is a page off of the MTA website for the LIRR (Long Island Railroad.) To be honest, since I never travel to Long Island, I didn’t know it existed. However, I do have some friends who travel on the LIRR and they have confirmed that this is true. They have seen this with their own eyes.
Apparently, the MTA is quite aware of the gap issue with their trains. In fact, if you scroll to the bottom of the page, they even offer the following to their “mobility impaired customers”:
“Mobility impaired customers may enlist the help of a train crewmember when boarding or exiting trains. A sturdy, steel bridge plate can be placed across the gap for easy movement on and off trains. Mention your destination to train crewmembers so that they can provide you with assistance when exiting the train.” -MTA Website*
Now, this is only available on the wheelchair accessible train stations on The LIRR (Long Island Rail Road), because obviously what is the point of getting off at a train station, that a person in a wheelchair would have no way of exiting, but the fact remains that the MTA offers a ramp (the “sturdy, steel bridge plate”) PLUS mobility assistance to their LIRR customers who request this.
I was chatting about this with my mother (who lives in Connecticut). She frequently takes the MetroNorth (which is also run by the MTA) into New York City, and she has seen it many a time, where they get out this portable ramp, and make sure the person in a wheelchair gets on and off the train safely.
Which brings me to the question : If the MTA is aware that the gap is sometimes a problem for their mobility impaired customers, then why don’t they offer this on the Subways?
Of course, I can only theorize as to why the MTA would do this for some but not all of their customers, and do that by looking at what are the differences between subway services and the train service of the LIRR and MetroNorth.
1.) Having a reduced fare card, I pay $1.10 (one way), while the reduced fare for the LIRR customer can range from $3.50 to $12.50 (one way, depending on where their going) (source: mta website**)
Is it possible that because the MTA makes more money off of the LIRR customer - even when it’s reduced fare, and as a result, because customers are paying more money, they get a bit more service?
To that I would argue that safety is not a luxury service. Safety should be basic. It should not be something you get if you’re paying more for your ticket.
The other difference that comes to mind is
2.) The frequency of trains. Subway trains simply run more frequently then the trains of the LIRR and MetroNorth. I know when I used to live in East Norwalk, CT (which was a pretty big/popular stop), I could catch a train once every hour, and that was a big deal. Certainly compared to Danbury, CT where the trains ran every 3 hours. A subway (which of course varies per day and by line) will typically come once every 10 minutes.
Thus the odds are, that MTA employees would have to pull out the ramp more frequently then they would for the MetroNorth / LIRR.
One might think that this would slow down the subways and thus effect service.
However, it is without a doubt that it would take far less time for a properly trained MTA employee to pull out a ramp for a customer in a wheelchair, than it would if said customer were to get stuck (between the subway car and platform) and then people have to first get the customer unstuck. (Which does happen, and has happened to me many a time.)
Furthermore, the customer in a wheelchair (who uses the designated wheelchair accessible stations) deserves a safe and smooth entry onto the subway car! Does a person need to get seriously hurt in order for this to change?
Now, of course these are just theories, and I am in no way saying, these are the reasons. That being said, why the MTA does not offer mobility assistance and ramps to their NYC Subway Customers is something that needs to be explained and needs to change.