Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wheelchair users on public transit: safety vs. time

Safety is always a priority when taking transit, but something that should coincide with safety is time efficiency. I try to be as time efficient as possible despite things like loading or unloading my wheelchair, but I hear a lot of things indicating that people perceive certain procedures in this process to be a bit too time-consuming when they're actually not.

For the interest of maybe debunking some of those perceptions, I'm going to propose some scenarios. Some will appear to be time-consuming but I will try to explain why they might not be. Some will appear to be time-saving but may actually consume more time in the long run. Hopefully this will clear some things up.

Scenario #1

On one of the older low-floor buses, I often see drivers get out of their seats when the ramp is lowered to help with the straps. At first glance, this appears to be a bit more time-consuming than it is. However, it saves a bit of time if the driver does things right -- basically, the strapping can begin the very second I am in position, and I can do the other side while the driver does one side. Usually by the time I get the other side done, the driver is back in his seat and we're ready to go.

Scenario #2

On the same vehicle, a driver might not offer any assistance. While I am capable of putting on the straps myself, it actually takes MORE time because of the steps involved: wheel into position, put the brakes on, put the straps on one side at a time, etc. In addition, the driver has to get confirmation that you're ready to go. In bad situations (which have happened to me), the driver might not even wait before you're strapped in before starting the bus. Not only is this obviously dangerous, but also it throws off the wheelchair user if he or she is not finished strapping in, which means even more time is wasted trying to get things set up.

Scenario #3

On some vehicles, some drivers unexplicably wrap the straps' buckles or hooks around something like the handles above the backrest of the folding seats. This is not a good thing to do. The reason why it's bad is because the straps must be completely retracted first before you can pull it out and make it longer. Sometimes the straps take a long time to retract due to the belt being twisted and whatnot. So for drivers out there, just leave the straps alone and don't do anything fancy with them when the wheelchair spaces are empty.

Scenario #4

On the SkyTrain, there is a nice little period of time called rush hour. One thing that I really appreciate is how some attendants will try to find a way to get you on board a train despite the passenger loads. This is something that I wish I can see more often because at some stations, it's badly needed because wheelchair users can't just "squeeze on" as well as everyone else.

Scenario #5

When boarding a SkyTrain, letting a wheelchair user on board first will save you time. The reason for this is because it gives the wheelchair user more space to get positioned in the wheelchair bays, which are designed to prevent aisle obstruction. With that in mind, once in position, everyone else can get on. The same with deboarding; letting wheelchair users off first means that there will be more room for everyone else to get off the train also.

Scenario #6

People blocking the path to the elevators is a pet peeve of mine. One thing I'd like to see changed is people being more aware of where the elevators are when they see a wheelchair user, and try to at least try to clear some sort of path leading to them. Broadway-Commercial Station is a particular nuisance, because the elevator near the overhead walkway is next to stairs and escalators. Everyone gravitates towards them, creating a human wall that prevents efficient elevator access. So while I look for a lane to clear, people behind me would have to dodge out of the way and stuff, creating some slight chaos.

Scenario #7

This one is a mixed bag for me -- walking people using the wheelchair ramp to board the bus. I see this as a time-saver and a time-waster, and it all depends on what ultimately happens in each particular situation. If everyone knows where they are going, has no questions for the driver, has exact change or a fare card, etc., then it is a definite time saver. However, if someone has a question for the driver, it is a time-waster because that person will likely stand next to the farebox to ask the question, preventing the ramp from retracting when everyone else has boarded. Without retracting the ramp, the bus cannot leave, hence wasting precious time.


  1. Thanks for the insightful comments... I was once involved in a situation like scenario #7.... I didn't realize I was jumping onto the wheelchair ramp.... I hadn't been on a bus in many years and was more concerned with boarding and paying.... my friend told me to hold my horses because someone was de-boarding. I felt like 'transit virgin', and an idiot!

  2. In terms of liability issues, bus drivers generally say it's best if you don't get on using the ramp. Some don't care, but more drivers are not allowing that. In general, see what the bus driver wants you to do. Default to not using the ramp unless otherwise instructed.

    For me, I could really care less. Of course, like in your scenario, if someone is de-boarding, then definitely "hold your horses." :) Keep an eye out whenever the ramp is deployed in case of such situations. If the driver's in his seat, watch for someone de-boarding. If the driver's not in his seat, then wait because he might be busy helping a passenger in a wheelchair.