TransLink fare gates may limit transit accessibility for passengers with disabilities

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      TransLink’s tap-in, tap-out Compass-card fare gates will mean that some users with disabilities won’t be able to travel independently, according to Jane Dyson, the director of Disability Alliance B.C.

      Many users who are paralyzed from the neck down can use buses and rapid transit on their own, but come the new year they will need assistance to take rapid transit, unless TransLink makes a modification to the Compass system. To open fare gates, users will be required to tap their Compass cards, which not everyone can do.

      Those who don’t have the use of their hands and arms “are not going to be able to use the system unassisted, which is a great shame because it takes away their independence,” Dyson said.

      Vancouver resident and frequent SkyTrain user Lorraine Tran uses a wheelchair that she operates with her mouth. She was paralyzed in a car accident in 2004 and lost the use of her four limbs.

      “I can get on and off of the SkyTrain by myself,” she said. “I’m pretty independent.”

      Tran fears that the fare-gate tapping requirement will mean that she and others who are similarly disabled will leave their homes less often. Unless she has someone accompanying her on transit, Tran said, she will have to ask a passerby to tap her fare card for her so she can get through the gate.

      “There’s a lot of time that I am on my own, and if I don’t have somebody helping me with my Compass card, I [will have to] sit and wait until I can find the right person who can help me,” she said.

      Tran explained that asking a stranger for help makes her more vulnerable, because once she asks them to help with the Compass card, they may recognize that she is an easy target for theft or assault. “It scares me,” she said.

      A solution Tran suggested would be to have highly sensitive sensors lower down on the gates, and for TransLink to distribute devices that automatically open the gates when the user approaches. Tran suggested that such devices should be waterproof and able to be attached to wheelchairs.

      Although many rapid-transit stations have an attendant on-site, this does not guarantee that they will be able to help users at all times. This could become daunting for those who have health conditions like Tran, who requires more frequent use of the washroom than most. not to mention facility emergencies where a prompt exit is required.

      Tran said that if she were stuck inside a station and couldn’t use a washroom, there is a possibility that she might require hospital care, and she could even have a stroke.

      Depending on their situation, there are a variety of transportation options for wheelchair users in Vancouver, Dyson said. They can use the standard buses and rapid transit like the SkyTrain or Canada Line, the HandyDART shared-ride service, or adapted taxis. Dyson said that use of the HandyDART is limited to those who can prove they are unable to use conventional transit unassisted.

      Although HandyDART is a viable option for many, users have to book rides at least one day in advance, which makes it unsuitable for spontaneous outings, and taxis require money that not everyone has.

      Today, Tran uses her “mouth stick” to push elevator buttons, answer her phone, and use her MP3 player.

      “About 98 percent of the time I depend upon people—and the other two percent is getting on and off of the SkyTrain and going places,” she said.

      Caregivers help Tran around the clock, she said, but they are mandated to take a few hours off each day. During this time, Tran likes to travel to her church in Surrey or go shopping, sometimes with a friend who is similarly disabled.

      “There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have another person with them. For about 13 years…I travelled everywhere by myself,” she said.

      TransLink did not provide an interview despite repeated requests.

      Update (December 7, 2 p.m.): 

      TransLink media relations advisor Chris Bryan said “we do understand that for anywhere fare gates are installed throughout the world, they can create a barrier for people unable to physically tap a card or insert a ticket.”

      Bryan said that TransLink works closely with disability groups and that they also consult formally through their Access Transit Users' Advisory Committee, to ensure that their services and infrastructure are designed with everyone in mind.

      “Ideally, there are no barriers at all,” he said, “and we do put a lot of thought into making sure we remove any barriers we can,” he said.

      While Bryan did not specify an immediate solution to the challenge of tapping, he mentioned that travel is free for the attendants of those who cannot use transit on their own, and that a solution is something TransLink continues to explore.