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Truly disabled - MBTA leaves many out in the cold


Mr. Park relies on the MBTA's buses and trains for most of his travel needs; he prefers these modes over the RIDE because the RIDE is typically late and makes him tardy for work. Mr. Park encounters many problems with trying to access MBTA buses and trains. Problems include broken elevators and escalators as well as unsanitary conditions in elevators.

Robert Park is a 29-year-old man with a disability. He has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. Mr. Park uses an electric wheelchair for mobility. He resides independently in Lynn, Massachusetts. He receives Personal Care Assistants (PCA's) services but his PCA's rarely accompany him outside of his home.

Mr. Park works fulltime as an advocate at the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL). He previously worked at the Independent Living Center of the North Shore as an independent living skills specialist. He is pursuing a degree in criminal justice at Salem State College in Salem, MA. Mr. Park relies on the MBTA's buses and trains for most of his travel needs; he prefers these modes over the RIDE because the RIDE is typically late and makes him tardy for work. Mr. Park encounters many problems with trying to access MBTA buses and trains. Problems include broken elevators and escalators as well as unsanitary conditions in elevators.

Mr. Park uses public transportation, provided by the MBTA, almost everyday. When the elevators in Lynn are working, he use the commuter rail from Lynn to North Station, then takes the Orange line train from North station to Back Bay. From there he uses his wheelchair to get work. If the elevators in Lynn are broken, he uses the buses from Central Square in Lynn to the Wonderland train station for the Blue line. He uses the Blue line from the Wonderland station to the State Street station where he transfers to the Orange line and travels from State Street to Back Bay.

Mr. Park commonly encounters broken lifts. Mr. Park usually has to wait, while two or three buses pass him by, before a bus arrives with a working lift. About a third of the buses that pass him by fail to stop.

On April 2, 2003, Mr. Park had a terrifying incident with a broken lift. Mr. Park was being raised into the bus on the lift and the restraint collapsed. Mr. Park almost fell off the lift platform. The back wheels were on the platform and his feet were on the ground and he was falling forward. Fortunately the driver was able to catch him before his head hit the cement curb.

Twice in 2003, the drivers did not have the key to the lift. The only reason Mr. Park was able to use the lift on those two occasions was because he had a key.

Mr. Park noticed many dangerous problems with the MBTA's buses such as the restraint mechanism, which almost never works. He usually has to grab a pole or grab the back of a seat to stabilize himself and to keep his chair from falling over or rolling around.

On June 12, 2003, the station elevator at Back Bay was broken, so he had to take the subway train back to New England Medical Center station and then used his wheelchair to travel a mile and a half to work on the sidewalk.

On June 16, 2003, at 8:30 a.m. the elevator at North Station on the Orange Line to Oak Grove was broken. There were no signs indicating that the elevators were not working. Mr. Park called the elevator update number at 3:30 p.m., which said that all elevators were functioning normally. However, at 4:15 p.m. the elevator at North Station was still not working, and there were no signs to indicate that the elevator was broken.

On July 22, 2003, the elevator was down at Back Bay so Mr. Park had to go back to New England Medical station and use his wheelchair to get to work. He was half an hour late for work that day.

Another barrier that Mr. Park encounters when using the MBTA's trains is that the gap between the MBTA train cars and the platforms is sometimes too wide and his front wheels get stuck. To get on the train he has to back himself into the car and use his larger rear wheels. Mr. Park finds this to be a very awkward way to get onto a train. Getting into the train cars when only one half of the two doors is open poses another barrier to boarding. The doorway is too narrow for his electric wheelchair when only one of the doors opens.

On July 24, 2003. Mr. Park attempted to transfer from the Blue Line at State Street to the Orange Line. The elevator at State Street is very awkward to enter. The doors are very narrow and anyone using a wheelchair must turn around in the elevator to fit inside. Sometime after 8:00 a.m., Mr. Park tried to leave the elevator but he got stuck. Before he could reposition himself to exit the elevator, the door would close. He spent 45 minutes trying to get out of the elevator. Eventually someone held the door open for him so he had time to turn and get out. He was over a half hour late for work that morning.

On July 25, 2003, at 7:50 a.m. the elevator at the commuter rail station in Central Square, Lynn was shut down. Mr. Park waited for the bus to Wonderland so he could get onto the Blue Line to get to work. Five buses passed him; two had non-working lifts, and three were non-lift buses. He could not wait any longer. Therefore, he went back home to get a ride to Wonderland in order to access the Blue line. On that day, the State Street station was not accessible and again he had to find an alternative accessible route. He went to Government Center. The doors on the train shut too quickly and they shut on him. Mr. Park found himself hurrying to get off the train but then his wheels got caught in the gap between the train and the platform. He almost fell over, head first. He arrived at work at 10:45 a.m.

One chronic problem encountered by Mr. Park is the failure of bus drivers to make stop announcements. Mr. Park has to make a special request to the drivers to get them to call out his stops. If he forgets to ask the drivers to make the stop announcement, they will not do it. Mr. Park found that drivers also seem to be annoyed when they have to lower the lift or when it takes him a while to get on the lift and into the bus.

Mr. Park has had to change his lifestyle significantly in order to respond to accessibility problems with the MBTA. When he needs to use a bus, he plans for waiting for two or three buses before a bus with a working lift arrives. If the elevator is broken, then he knows that he has to take the train back to the last stop with a working elevator and travel to work, or to appointments, using his wheelchair for a long distance on busy downtown streets. The MBTA's broken lifts and broken elevators make it difficult for Mr. Park to get to work on time and to meet scheduled appointments.

From the full civil suit against the MBTA which is available in its entirety.

We encourage our readers, and Massachusetts taxpayers in general, to expand your awareness to the disabled among us; to offer a kind hand when appropriate; and to help defend the rights of those who continue to be abused by the MBTA.

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