Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Seating for people with disabilities in new double-decker train cars in Montreal's AMT inaccessible

From The Montreal Gazette in Canada:

MONTREAL - The Agence métropolitaine de transport's (AMT) new double-decker train cars have great seating areas for the disabled - but those seats are out of reach, up some stairs or on a section of train that has an entrance a metre above the station platform.

Portable ramps on the stations' platforms could make the double-decker trains fully accessible, but none of the 52 stations in the AMT's five-line system has such ramps. Three stations have some equipment to enable wheelchair access on the older, single-floor trains.

The new Bombardier trains could have included retractable ramps and lifts, but the AMT passed on those.

"We don't know what they were thinking when they signed the contract" for the new trains in 2007, said Valérie Larouche, director of the Regroupement des usagers du transport adapté et accessible de l'Ile de Montréal. The AMT has received 73 of the 160 double-decker cars it ordered, with the rest expected by 2012.

The new trains have eight to 10 cars, which each have 142 seats and 58 standing places -a big improvement over the older models, which have 54 seats per car. Each car has two seating areas with 15 to 20 seats that fold up to make more room for people in wheelchairs or with strollers or bicycles.

But it's getting aboard these trains that poses a problem. The new cars have four passenger entrances on each side. Some of them require users to climb one step from the station platform then climb another four stairs to access seating, while the other doors are about one metre off the ground -only accessible if the stations have a raised platform.

"What's the point of having wheelchair seating if people in wheelchairs can't get on the train?" Jennifer Hilditch, 59, said as she sat in the disabled section of one of the double-deckers bound for Hudson at the downtown Lucien-L'Allier station on Thursday. She wears braces on both legs because of her arthritis. "Sometimes people behind me get annoyed because I walk slowly, but I just take the time that I need."

She said she appreciates that the expanded-room seating areas are near exits. "But I've never seen anyone in a wheelchair get on. How hard would it be to have one ramp so a wheelchair could get up onto the train?"

The AMT's new doubledecker trains have two rows of windows, but the cars actually have three levels, with seating areas arranged slightly differently depending on the type of train car. And while some cars have bathrooms, and they are big enough to accommodate a wheelchair, they are located up some steps on the middle level of the split-level layout.

Brigitte Léonard, a spokesperson for the AMT, said the agency is studying ways to make the new trains accessible to people in wheelchairs, and that a plan will be announced next year.

"We have to develop ways to make the low station platforms accessible to the higher train doors for people in wheelchairs," Leonard said.

She would not say why the AMT chose this model of multi-level train car over others.

Different models were available, Bombardier spokesperson Marc-Andre Lefebvre said last week. "We make some trains with foldable ramps, but that's not what the AMT ordered," he said. "We provided the trains we were asked to provide according to the AMT's specifications."

The AMT just didn't think through the notion of access for the disabled when it bought the new trains, Larouche speculated. "Now, they are talking to us (disabled rights groups) and they want to know what we want for the future," Larouche said. "We want ramps in all the stations."

But even if all the AMT's stations had ramps to allow wheelchair-bound travellers to get from the platforms onto the trains, not all the stations' platforms are accessible to begin with.

Leonard noted the AMT is building 11 fully accessible stations as part of the Train de L'Est, a new commuter line in east-end Montreal and off-island that will be up and running by the summer of 2012. The Mascouche, Repentigny and Terrebonne stations will have multi-level platforms for direct access through the train's higher doors without stairs. The eight other stations on the new line will have individual lifts. All the stations will have elevators so people can go from street level to the platform. Only three of the AMT's existing stations (Central Station, Pierrefonds/Roxboro and Deux Montagnes) have wheelchair ramps, but they are only for the older commuter trains that have fewer designated seating areas for the disabled on them.

André Leclerc, who founded Kéroul, a non-profit organization that promotes and develops wheelchair-accessible tourism, called the no-go double-deckers a real sore point. "I have not seen them," said Leclerc, 56, who has cerebral palsy and has used wheelchairs since he was 10. He gets around in an adapted van and by adapted transit, a public service that is often a trip by adapted taxi whose actual cost is borne by taxpayers, since users pay only the regular transit fare.

"We can send people into space but we can't think of a way to get people in wheelchairs on to these new trains," Leclerc said. "We're still fighting to make public transit truly public."