Disabled Metro riders raise concerns


(Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Some disabled Metro riders are reporting problems fitting their wheelchairs on Metro’s new hybrid buses.

The problem, say some riders, happens when bus drivers use the safety shields that Metro put in on some buses. Disabled riders say it is tough to get their wheelchairs past the shields as they board the bus because it is a tight fit, especially for motorized wheelchairs.

Eric Harris, who is a summer intern in the District and uses a wheelchair to get around on Metro bus and rail, said “it’s a pretty narrow fit and if you have a motorized [wheelchair or scooter] it can’t fit in that area [with the bus shields].”

Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said drivers are instructed to keep the lower door of the shields closed so wheelchairs can fit. He said the problem is “not a design issue” with the shields.

“We will reinforce this requirement [to keep the lower part of the shields closed] with all operators,” he said in an e-mail when asked about the issue. He said passengers who experience this problem should ask the bus driver to close the lower door and to let Metro officials know the time, date and bus number “so we can follow up with the operator.”

Harris also said he and other disabled riders have noticed this summer that Metro’s online list of escalator and elevator outages isn’t as up-to-date as many passengers would like. He said it often says an elevator is working but he finds that when he gets to the particular station it is not. “That can be frustrating,” he said.

He said several stations, including L’Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place, Metro Center, McPherson Square, have had recent elevator problems and haven’t had current updates on Metro’s list of troubled equipment. Without the elevator working, he said he’s sometimes forced to take an expensive cab ride to get around. He said he prefers not to use the door-to-door shuttle service of MetroAccess because it takes longer, and he likes the freedom that using the rail and bus provides.

“They’re out in places where a lot of us have to go to work, and they’re out for two or three months at a time,” he said. “It is really devastating to have to spend money on cabs.”

Stessel said the online lists of elevator and escalator outages are kept up-to-date, and that it can take time for a problem to be reported and for technicians to get there to fix it and reflect the issue on the online list.

Of the online list of outages, he said, “it is what it is.”

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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