Waiting for transit

People with disabilities find it increasingly difficult to catch a train, bus, or taxi in the Bay Area



Transit options for wheelchair users and people with disabilities are under threat in the Bay Area, and riders are losing ground on multiple transit fronts.

In late April and early May, hundreds of advocates for those with disabilities took to the streets, protesting BART's Fleet of the Future, a touring mockup of a new BART trains slated to roll out in 2017.

The trains are a step backward in wheelchair accessibility, among other issues, advocates said.

Just last month, advocates for senior and those with disabilities stormed a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors meeting, asking for free Muni for the most economically disadvantaged among them. They were denied based on dollar amounts, while drivers were given an $11 million giveback restoring free Sunday parking meters.

The SFMTA promised to revisit the issue in January. Meanwhile, San Francisco's wheelchair accessible taxi fleet has seen its drivers flee to so-called "rideshare" companies — whose cars aren't equipped to carry wheelchairs — causing what officials say is a record low number of wheelchair accessible taxi trips.

Compounding that decision was the SFMTA's March adoption of its Transit Effectiveness Project, which the agency billed as expanding service by 12 percent and improving the system's efficiency, but some advocates for seniors and the disabled noted it removed some bus stops, requiring longer walks by those who have a hard time getting around.

The transit troubles cover most of the transportation options available to San Franciscans with disabilities, and that's the problem.

"We're one of the most transit-dependent populations," Peter Mendoza, a community organizer with the Independent Living Resource Center, told the Guardian. He also uses a wheelchair. "Everything we do in our everyday life, we mostly do with public transportation."

Their needs are simple: getting groceries, seeing a movie, picking up their kids from school. People with disabilities are now in a multi-pronged fight for their right to everyday mobility, and to do so with dignity.



A walking tour of BART's Fleet of the Future shows much is new: computer screens with live GPS updates of the train's location, triple-bike racks, and redesigned seats. BART Vehicle Systems Engineer Brian Bentley proudly showed us the new touch screens in the driver's cockpit.

For people with disabilities, the Fleet of the Future is a step backward. Their first beef with BART's new trains is a simple one: there's a pole in the way of the door.

Hundreds of disability advocates protested BART's public tour of its newly redesigned trains just last week, with more protests planned for the future. All they want is the damned pole moved.

The handhold in question features a triple-pronged design: what begins as one vertical metal column branches into three partway off the ground.

"Where the pole is now is in the path of travel for the accessible seating area," Mendoza said. "People holding onto the poles and the power wheelchairs will be in a sense be trying to occupy the same space."

BART's Fleet of the Future will arrive in limited numbers in 2015, and fully roll out by 2017, according to the BART website. BART plans to use the new trains for decades. So will BART move the pole to a different location in the car before then?

"It's too soon to say," BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Guardian. "That's why we're doing outreach."

Trost told us BART did its due diligence by garnering feedback from the BART Disability Task Force. But the DTF, a volunteer body serving like a consistent focus group, informed BART of the pole-problem years ago.

"From day one, they identified the pole as being a problem," BART Access Coordinator Ike Nnaji told us. Now, he said, "the pole has been moved slightly."


Let's understand why there might be limits to the service we can offer.

Posted by Guest on May. 06, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

The ADA is clear on this, accommodation is paramount.

The MTA has laid off of stop consolidation for now as a play for bond funding in November but we know if they score their fix, they'll be back to their old ways like any junkie.

My bet is that the MTA in desperately seeking its fix will hold fare free Muni for seniors and the disabled hostage to electoral wins in November. There is nothing that the junkie will not do in order to get their next fix when they're jonesing.

Having been on crutches for a month 5 years ago, the notion that the mobility impaired should have to ambulate twice as far is a discriminatory non-starter.

Similarly, many commuter Muni lines fill up early and wheelchair seating is not available midway through the run.

These policies all run afoul of federal civil rights law and are completely unacceptable.

Posted by marcos on May. 07, 2014 @ 8:09 am

If we give more to the disabled, we have to take from others. Which others do you want to take from?

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 10:02 am

Civil rights is not a zero sum game.

Posted by marcos on May. 07, 2014 @ 11:10 am

people, you take from another

If the voters want to spend more on the disabled and less on, say, gays or seniors, then that is their choice

Just sayin' that money isn't free.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 11:23 am

Federal mandates are Federal mandates. Not that hard to understand.

Posted by guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

Why are they in Seahawk's colors? Completely unacceptable.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on May. 07, 2014 @ 9:48 am

I tried one out a while ago at MacArthur Bart. It's going to be a nightmare for bikes and backpacks too. Commuters love to stand in the doorway and that bloody rail/pole combo is just going to encourage it. Ball dropped.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 10:03 am

I was riding in the generally southerly direction on Potrero yesterday afternoon when I had to swing out into traffic to pass a fellow in a motorized wheelchair--for the second time, since he'd jumped the red light at Mariposa stopping cross traffic to do so. I'd say it was Stehpen Hawking, but he was a much younger fellow I'm pretty sure. I thought to myself "oh my, that man doesn't want to live" with a tremendous feeling of helpless anxiety and sadness; but then it occurred to me that maybe he was just an asshole.

Anyhow, I suppose it is worth asking for proof of Peter Mendez claim that the wheelchair-bound community is "the most transit-dependent populations."

I've got plenty of sympathy for the less mobility-fortunate among us, and yet I can't help but remember that so many of the accommodations granted through the ADA were manifestly inconvenient and quite costly to the non-disabled community. So much so that it was the genesis for my understanding that perhaps the enemies of liberalism had learned to use such ostensibly forward-looking governmental policies to subvert their foe.

In particular I recall how the expense of retrofitting the former Main Library was used as partial pretext for its being shuffled into the hands of the Asian Art Museum even though the latter ended up--correct me if I'm wrong--retrofitting the building on the public dime. Also--and more to the point of transit-- how Muni light rail vehicle lines were rendered less functional and more costly to operate by the addition of scarcely used disability access stops. I remember supposing at the time that MUNI could afford to dispatch private cars for the expense to the agency and cost in terms of transit service to the general ridership that the additional delays cost.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that a civilized society does not owe itself and its disabled citizens accommodations. I am only saying that such must be kept in synch with the limitations of practicability and economics.

I look at the new cars' central standee poles and do not see them as being right "in the way of the doors" but rather as centrally in the middle of the cars *between* the doors. Just look at the picture. The wide-angle view seems to distort things, but the second pole in the distance is shown more clearly.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 07, 2014 @ 10:32 am

That ADA requires equal access. That means access to the same public transit system that everyone uses. Not a private car service. Surely you understand the pitfalls of "separate but equal."

Posted by guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

Equitable access to transportation is at the heart of civil rights jurisprudence.

Posted by marcos on May. 07, 2014 @ 1:51 pm

got it.

btw, Fuck Nancy Pelosi and fuck the corporate-friendly aspects of the ADA.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 08, 2014 @ 4:02 am

Were one man too plump to fit through a bus door, would Muni be required to widen the doors of all of their buses?

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

by Brown vs Board of Education; where *no* justification could be established for seperate accommodations except as a sop to entrenched racism.

Let's not conflate matters.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 08, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

I like the new poles. But maybe there is potentially better placement? Like near the "conversational" seats?

Posted by Jame on May. 07, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

I love how SF Weekly writes about disability issues using offensive language like "wheelchair bound." Way to go. They also failed to mention that Muni is eliminating priority seating in many of their buses. That should go over well.

Posted by guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

My apologies for the use of "wheelchair-bound." I was doing my best to use language used by the community, and some edits made in my article later on (to make it briefer) inserted some language I did not initially use. I'm trying to comb the piece now for offensive language, so if anyone catches anything else that is insensitive to the community, please let me know in the comments below.

Posted by Joe Fitzgerald on May. 07, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

Well, since the term got edited out of the story from whence I cut and pasted it it would seem fair to have the chance to change it in my comment above too. Please insert "mobility challenged" or "disabled" or whatever is the most polite term.

I think such kinds complaints can sometimes be excessive and amount to nothing more then the human predilection to screech-monkey-ism, but in this case I've seen those who get around well on land in wheelchairs take to other conveyances in other situations with equal grace--such as when sailing in disabled-access boats such as those maintained for members of the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors--so "wheelchair bound" is properly not to be used.


Posted by lillipublicans on May. 08, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

We prefer "those with different abilities."

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

You might think car rides are economical and logical but the costs of paratransit and the numbers of people with disabilities keep increasing. In NYC, annual paratransit costs are now over a half a billion dollars. That makes accessible subways look affordable. There are many people with disabilities all over. We have a need for accessible transit but naturally don't use it if we can't get on and off.

Posted by Guest on May. 07, 2014 @ 8:32 pm

I believe the person you interviewed is named Peter Mendoza, not Peter Mendez.

Posted by Guest on May. 08, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

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