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Friday, November 14, 2014

Disabled Riders Say BART's New Cars Won't Work For Them

Posted By on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Last April Snitch reported on BART's soon-to-be unveiled new trains, which the transit agency promises will result in a quieter, cleaner, and cooler rides for commuters. 

BART also promises that the new cars be better for disabled riders. 

But as we've already noted, disability advocates aren't convinced. The new train cars will be more of a hindrance than a help; the two biggest issues with the new design are floor-to-ceiling poles by the entrance doors and the segregated areas for users of scooters and wheelchairs, says Belo Cipriani, who is blind. 

"People with disabilities don't have as many transportation options as able bodied people have," Cipriani told SF Weekly. "BART needs to stay accessible and not adopt the new car design. Bart isn't just a convenient way to get around, but also the fastest without a car. People with disabilities have the right to have this service accessible to them."

Fiona Hinz, Systems Change Coordinator for the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, isn't letting her own disability stop her from fighting back. She's the perfect person for the job—she makes sure that services such as transportation and health care remain accessible to all. Hinz, who lives with cerebral palsy,  spoke to SF Weekly about her campaign to stop BART from adopting the new car design. 

"I personally do not use BART for my daily commute," she said. "However, I do use it when I have to travel out on the field for work." 

Hinz said that she gets around with the help of a power wheelchair. She explained why the new BART cars would be problematic for people like herself. 

"Two wheelchair users  could not sit together in the same car," she said. "I would be very reluctant to use BART if the proposed new car design were implemented. Hinz also said that the floor to ceiling poles would impede the movement of wheelchair users. Presumably the poles would create problems for the blind as well.

"With the blind unable to drive cars, and with the city being so fast paced and busy, it's imperative for disabled people to have BART, Muni and other forms of public transportation accessible to them," said Caitlin Hernandez, a totally blind student at SF State. "Taxis are expensive, especially when travelling between counties, which means that BART is often our only means of getting from point A to point B without assistance."

Hinz gives Muni high marks for their efforts in accommodating the disabled. "Muni has very actively solicited input from the disabled community in the design of their new fleet of light rail vehicles,"  she said.

BART? Not so much. "Unfortunately, BART has not done a satisfactory job of listening to the disabled community's concerns regarding the Fleet of the Future," Hinz said. "A group of people with disabilities attended a recent BART board meeting to express their concerns about the lack of accessibility of the new cars. This is not reflected in the minutes of this meeting. The disability community has also done protests at several of the events where BART had a mock-up of the new car on display last spring."

And yet, Hinz says, BART has yet to address the concerns of disabled people.

BART rep Alicia Trost responded to SF Weekly's email regarding Hinz's concerns. She only provided us with a link to the New Train Car Project page at BART's website. 

The page reports that 61 percent of blind people and 58 percent of wheelchair users surveyed by BART rated the car design as fair/poor. As a result, the page states, BART will be moving the poles six inches further away from the wheelchair area in order to create a more accessible path. 

BART also states that when test cars arrive in 2016, the transit agency plans to test-remove some of the poles and ask riders  with disabilities to evaluate this test.

Independent Living Resource Center Executive Director Jessie Lorenz, who is blind, says that BART has agreed to meet with members of the disabled community again. But if the two can't work out their differences, this issue could wind up in court.

"We have voiced our concerns and frustration publicly and privately to BART, but BART still disagrees with us," Lorenz said. "While BART has agreed to meet with us next month, given our disagreement, we are running out of options for ways to enforce the civil rights of people with disabilities who ride BART. Therefore, litigation is looking like a likely next step. We of course hope that BART will negotiate a solution with us, but we can no longer stand by while BART proceeds with an inaccessible design." 

In the meantime, Hinz urges the disabled, supporters, friends and families to participate in an action alert. Make your voice heard. A sample letter, and those who should be contacted, can be found here (
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