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.
It all began when I got word that the MTA was making the Kings Highway subway stop on the Q & B line, wheelchair accessible. I was thrilled! Finally, I would be able to use the NYC subway system! A whole new world of options has been opened up to me.
As you may or may not know, not every NYC subway station is wheelchair accessible. There are currently 73* wheelchair accessible subway stations out of 423*** in NYC (30 in Manhattan, 9 in The Bronx, 19 in Brooklyn, and 15 in Queens.) Some of those are fully wheelchair accessible, while others are partially wheelchair accessible (like the Avenue H station in Brooklyn which is only accessible going southbound.)
Now, for those who might be unfamiliar with the term “wheelchair accessible”, let me take a moment to break down what this means (in regard to subway stations). Basically, any time there is a station, that has a flight of stairs and no ramp or elevator, that station is not wheelchair accessible. Meaning that a person in a wheelchair would not be able to use (and/or have access to) this station. Wheelchairs were simply not designed to go up steps (not even one). In addition, the gap between the subway car and platform can be not be too wide, and the ledge (the part that sticks out of a subway car by the doors to minimalize the gap) must be fairly inline with the platform, so that the wheelchair can go into the subway car smoothly. If not, it is essentially a step and a wheelchair would not be able to enter the subway car.
In addition to checking what stations are accessible or not, one must also check the elevator status of the system, as well as checking any construction that might effect one’s trip**. After all, the last thing you want to do, is go on your way, only to find out the elevator isn’t working, or that your subway is running on another line that isn’t wheelchair accessible.) However, if you prepare ahead of time (and double check the morning before you leave because things can change) you should be able to have a safe and smooth subway ride in the NYC MTA subway system.
This is what the MTA tells you, however it is simply not the case. Not consistently anyway, which is nothing short of dangerous and inexcusable.
I’ll give you an example. On Tuesday (July 10th 2012), I took the subway to the Dekalb station in downtown Brooklyn to show my support for unions and to take some photos of the Con Ed Picket Line. Going there was fairly flawless and I had a great time, but after 3 hours of being in the strong sun, and hearing the enthusiastic drums and horns of the picket line, I decided it was time to go home. I head back to the Dekalb station, pay my fare and make my way (via the elevator) to the platform to get the downtown Q.
At this point in time, I look to my left and I look to my right. I have learned to make sure that I am not waiting too much towards the beginning or end of a subway platform. You see, I once learned the hard way from a previous experience that the Kings Highway subway platform is curved towards the beginning and towards the end. This results in a wider gap between the subway car and the subway platform. Cut to my wheelchair wheel going INTO the gap, (and my wheelchair getting stuck). Thankfully I was with a friend at the time, who as able to push me from behind. However, it should be noted, that there was no warning on the MTA website. No signs on the platform. I was left to figure this out on my own. (and yes I filed a complaint to the MTA, but more on that later in the article.)
So, I am waiting in the middle and I see a B train head towards the station, but for some reason the ledge (the part that sticks out of the subway car by the doors, so the gap between the car and platform is minimalized) was rather high up. I was looking at it and it just didn’t look wheelchair accessible. “Must be a fluke” I thought to myself, “I’ll wait for the next train.” And so a Q train pulls up, but it’s the same situation. “Maybe it’s more accessible then it looks?” I thought to myself. After all, I went on the MTA website. It said it was. I did all the preparation that you’re supposed to do, and I didn’t have this problem heading into downtown Brooklyn. So I decided to give it a go.
Well, cut to my chair getting stuck. and I don’t mean a little stuck where I could back my way out. I mean STUCK. Stuck, where the chair was tilted back and I was unable to move forward or backwards. Immediately, four complete strangers, jump out of their seats on the subway to help me. It took two burly looking men to push from behind, to even get me onto the subway car (the other two spotted from the front). And while this does speak of the generosity and humanity of NYC residents (who sometimes get a bad rap), this was a station that was supposed to be wheelchair accessible. It is listed on the website as wheelchair accessible. There was no construction going on the line (that was reported) that would effect my route. Nor where there any signs in the station : The Q & B platform is temporarily wheelchair inaccessible. Nothing. I was left to find this out by myself, which not only put my chair at risk, but I could have been seriously hurt.
The look on the people’s faces in the subway car was one of fear (because it looked as dangerous as it felt) and shock that it even happened. I even said to the people who helped me “This is supposed to be wheelchair accessible. The MTA lists this station as a station that is wheelchair accessible”. They just shook their heads and looked at me with sympathy as if to say “That’s not right. That shouldn’t happen.”
And it’s not right. There should have been signs warning me, the MTA employees should have been notified and instructed to help a person out in my situation, but there was nothing.
Every time, there is something wrong with the NYC subway system, where they say on the website, it’s safe to go this route - and it’s blatantly not, I have emailed my complaint to the MTA because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Each time, I pretty much get the same response. Thank you for taking the time to bring this to our attention. Customer satisfaction is very important to us. And sometimes they’ll add that they will forward this email to the appropriate supervisor.
And then… nothing changes.
And I began to realize, there is no competition for the MTA (regarding subways) that would force them to take care of this issue. They don’t have to. They’re the only game in town.
I also began to realize that nothing will ever happen, if I continue to just file my complaints to the MTA. And that is when on July 10th, 2012 I decided that I had had enough. I decided that I was going to fight back. However, I am just one average citizen fighting a large corporation. I don’t have the wealth or big connections on my side that major corporations have. That is why I am asking you to join me in the Mind The Gap campaign. A campaign designed to raise awareness and bring attention to this situation on a city-wide, and perhaps even nationwide level. I also hope to bring this campaign to the attention of the mainstream and alternative media, because while the MTA may not be too bothered by one NYC resident, they will take note of negative media attention, and the voice of a united people.
This is not just about a NYC girl in a wheelchair. This is not just an issue of safety. This is about corporate accountability. The MTA should not be allowed to get away with this. A person in a wheelchair (who does all the proper preparation) should be able to safety ride the subway system, and the stations that are labeled as wheelchair accessible by the MTA, should BE wheelchair accessible.
Thank you for take the time to read this article. Please sign the petition, write to the MTA, share your stories on our tumblr blog and pass this on. Together we can make a change.
* source: MTA website: http://mta.info/accessibility/stations.htm
** source: MTA website: http://advisory.mtanyct.info/EEoutage/
*** source: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_subway_stations_are_there_in_New_York_City