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Monday, January 21, 2013

Mass Transportation NYC Style

I love to travel despite the fact I routinely encounter trouble accessing mass transportation systems. As I have detailed in many posts the airline industry is inherently hostile to any person with a disability. Trains are hit and miss at best. Buses are the most reliable form of mass transportation in my experience. Access issues vary widely from one city to another. San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle are relatively easy to navigate. At the opposite end of the spectrum is New York City. Aside from MTA buses the train and subway are difficult and time consuming to use. Forget about taxis. Mayor Bloomberg has made it crystal clear the city has no interest in making taxis accessible. While MTA buses are reliable they are slow. The most efficient way to get around New York City is the subway system. Good luck with that! I try to use the subway at least a few times a year. Rarely have I been successful. Few stops are accessible and even if an elevator is present at a renovated stop they are usually not operational.

None of the above is news to a person that uses a wheelchair in NYC.  I mention because the New York Times published a good article and video about navigating the city. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/opinion/the-long-wait.html Jason Dasilva breaks no new ground here. Two decades after the ADA was passed accessing mass transportation in the city is a challenge. Dasilva, an independent film maker, lives in Williamsburg Brooklyn. In a short Op-ed film Dasilva leaves his home for the Union Square area in Manhattan, a typical trip for a resident. Dasilva's journey though is not simple or efficient. It takes him nearly 90 minutes to make a one way trip. Dasilva's friend made the same journey in less than 15 minutes.

It is films like Dasilva's and my own experience navigating mass transportation systems nationwide that make me aware of the fact I am disabled. It is not my disability that is the problem but the refusal of mass transportation systems to accommodate a wide range of disabling conditions. At no point in my life am I as aware of social barriers than when I access mass transportation. Elevators are routinely broken or simply non operational for unknown reasons. Employees are often rude and dismissive. Virtually no one has a clue about how to navigate a terminal or can locate accessible routes. Even when present accessible routes are convoluted. Curb cuts in one place handicapped parking in another. The net result of decades of hassles is that I am convinced we as a culture do not value access. I have felt and continue to feel as though I am on my own. My fellow passengers are never supportive. Employees  of mass transportation systems are not pleasant. Nasty employees are hardly uncommon. Ignorance abounds.  This is not just a "long wait" as the NY Times article is entitled. The issue is needless barriers are created and supported by a social system that does not value my presence.

11 comments:

Melanie Suzanne Gerber said...

Bill-You raise very good points in your latest blog. As an "able-bodied" middle aged woman, I agree 100% with your comments. Again, as our population ages & so many of us are out of shape (myself included), taking public transportation is difficult. Walking up & down staircases is difficult & having ramps or elevators would not only allow mass transit for the masses but it will help reduce our carbon footprint. Put that in your pipe & smoke it Mayor Mike!!

Melanie Suzanne Gerber said...

Bill-You raise very good points in your latest blog. As an "able-bodied" middle aged woman, I agree 100% with your comments. Again, as our population ages & so many of us are out of shape (myself included), taking public transportation is difficult. Walking up & down staircases is difficult & having ramps or elevators would not only allow mass transit for the masses but it will help reduce our carbon footprint. Put that in your pipe & smoke it Mayor Mike!!

Middle Child said...

It was so bad in our town when my husband was irst injured that he paid council half the cost of providing wheelchair access just to the main street so that he could get about independently and do business etc - the gormless council accepted and took the $7000! Don had just received his settlement and was setting up for his work and could nto even get to the bank witout me or someone else... years later we would think about that $7000 a bit but it helped us immensely and others too. I noticed the other day that on a footpath on a very busy road which always has traffic - Council has put a signpost almost in the centre of the footpath making it impossible for wheelchairs - and its a long way back as too dangerous to cross the road.

E Fischer said...

For me Bill the message still does not come across clearly enough: society does not want you to be a contributing member!
Conversely, stay home! and contribute. Live your life at home.
That's really what's happening isn't it?

GirlWithTheCane said...

That New York taxi situation is such a pet peeve. And it's not going to get any better. The "Taxi of Tomorrow" isn't accessible without expensive retrofitting and it's locked in as the only cab that will operate in the city for the next ten years.

Bloomberg actually said at one point that complete accessibility wasn't necessarily what disabled people wanted. *rolls eyes*

And New York doesn't have the monopoly on this. Washington DC only had 20 accessible cabs the last time I checked the numbers.

william Peace said...

Eric, There is no doubt in my mind given half a chance society would be thrilled if people such as myself did not exist. Disability history is replete with exclusion of various kinds. It is no wonder inroads are just being made.
Girlwiththecane, Thankfully many people are fighting Bloomberg over the taxi of tomorrow. Simi Linton is leading this charge for which I am thankful. This battle is but a symbol of a much larger problem.
Middlechild, Access like it or not always comes down to money. Without a social mandate for access violations will remain the norm.
Melanie, It is everyone's best interest to make society accessible. Sadly people only realize this when it is way too late.

Carlisle said...
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Carlisle said...
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Carlisle said...

I hate NYC taxis.

My friend and I had a bad experience with NYC taxis. I am deaf and my friend is deaf and has CP. We tried to hail down a taxi. Many available taxis won't stop for us. After watching several taxis zooming past us, one finally stopped. As soon as I gestured "I am deaf," the taxi driver locked his doors. He won't let us in. We were confused and backed off. Then, a business man went up and the driver unlocked his doors for him, letting him in- all because that business man was speaking to the driver. My friend and I were so pissed off. Later we asked our deaf NYC friends about that. They said yeah, they don't use taxis, only subways; unless they can speak well.

Just wow, NYC transportation system really needs a lesson on discrimination

william Peace said...

Carlisle, Your experience with cab drivers was typical. I am not sure when or if this will ever change. I know when the wheelchair lifts were put on buses in the late 1970s I experienced significant harassment. Today most bus drivers are polite and getting on and off is routine.

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