British Columbia

No access: What happens to transit users with disabilities when SkyTrain elevators break down

Micaela Evans uses an electric wheelchair, so if an elevator breaks down at a SkyTrain station, or is undergoing maintenance, the delay can add an extra half hour each way to her commute. Sometimes outages can occur several times a month.

A broken elevator can add an extra half hour — each way — to her commute, says SkyTrain user

People leave an elevator at Granville SkyTrain Station in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Port Moody resident Micaela Evans takes the SkyTrain and the West Coast Express commuter train every day to get to her job in Vancouver as a communications coordinator at a non-profit that helps people with spinal cord injuries.

Typically, Evans' daily commute to the Spinal Cord Injury B.C. office in South Vancouver takes her just over an hour each way.

Evans, 24, uses an electric wheelchair, so if an elevator breaks down at a SkyTrain station, or is undergoing maintenance, the delay can add an extra half hour each way to her commute. Sometimes, these elevator outages can occur several times a month.

"I have a job like anyone else. I just want to be able to get to work and be there on time," Evans said in a phone interview.

She isn't the only disabled person who has faced delays when an elevator is out of service at a SkyTrain station. Justina Loh, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said other people who rely on elevators because they have disabilities have complained about delays when an elevator is out of commission.

At times, Loh said staff and volunteers have arrived late for work because they've had to wait or because they've had to reroute themselves to get to work in a different way. 

"I would say it's a pretty big issue," Loh said.

Evans, who said she thinks TransLink's overall service is good, said the company posts alerts on their website and Twitter to warn users when an elevator will be under maintenance. But she says the wording of these alerts are vague and puts the onus on the person with the disability to figure out a Plan B.

"They just kind of expect you to figure out how the heck you're going to get to the next successful station," Evans said. 

She said she'd like to see more support staff at stations to provide help, adding she's noticed a reduction in services.

2-train commute

Each work day, Evans boards the West Coast Express at Moody Centre Station and disembarks at Waterfront. She then transfers to SkyTrain's Canada Line and takes the train to Marine Drive station. 

She has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement.

Micaela Evans, pictured here, says when the elevators break down or are under maintenance, it can add an extra half hour each way to her commute. (Micaela Evans )

TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews said when the transit authority has scheduled elevator maintenance at one of its SkyTrain stations, it attempts to provide users with a minimum notice of three days, which it relays through tweets and on its website.

If a customer arrives at a station and isn't aware of the outage, they can request a TransLink assistant to call a taxi, which will take them to the next station with a working elevator.

Regular elevator maintenance is necessary, Drews said. Under B.C. safety regulations, TransLink must inspect each elevator in the system once a month. There's also a yearly inspection that's more in-depth and can take multiple days. 

"You can imagine how catastrophic it could be if a fault, you know, trapped a customer or led to injury. That's just not something we can risk," Drews said. 

Loh pointed out TransLink was one of the first systems to implement the Universal Fare Gate program which uses sensors so people who can't physically tap a Compass Card can have the fare gates open for them. 

Elevator sign at Granville Skytrain Station in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

But, Loh said there are still barriers for people with disabilities when it comes to taking public transportation. 

"I would say, one, it's either just too congested, and there's a lack of understanding and empathy from other transit users," Loh said.

Drews said TransLink's policy states it must have to have an attendant present when the only critical elevator to access the platform is out for maintenance or repairs. She also said the company tries to schedule maintenance during non-peak hours but there's an industry shortage of qualified elevator technicians. 

Drews said TransLink isn't able to offer as much money as other companies, so in order to stay competitive, it schedules technicians during daytime, meaning the work is conducted during commuting hours.

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