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  • Writer's pictureCandis

Riding Dirty in LA: MetroLA’s Public Transportation “Safety” Operations for Wheelchair Passengers

My experience on MetroLA’s public transportation and their operators lack of proper training when it comes to securing wheelchairs and courteous treatment.

Orange Metro Los Angeles Public Transit Bus

People are always shocked to know that I accomplish everyday life (i.e. work, school, events, social outings) on public transportation, but for me (and many other wheelchair users) this is the only option for us to remain independent. I have never owned my own wheelchair accessible vehicle, due to the extreme cost associated with it and don’t plan on purchasing one anytime soon.

Living in L.A. without a vehicle can be difficult but not impossible, especially considering our public transportation is one of the most wheelchair accessible compared to cities such as New York and San Francisco.

It’s not perfect, but since Metro Los Angeles’s 1st rail line, the infamous Metro Blue Line, was constructed in 1990… just five years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law — there was actual forethought and planning that went into the overall accessibility. Today, Metro LA has 29 bus elevators, 120 rail elevators, and all bus fleets are fully accessible to hold two wheelchairs. Unfortunately, transportation planning and construction in cities like New York and San Francisco were made in the early 1900’s and very little has been done to retrofit their systems.

Now I will admit other cities have better public transportation systems when it comes to service planning areas, but in my opinion, if the rail line or bus line is there but it’s not accessible to all passengers, well… it might as well not even exist. Recently, I have been riding the Metro LA transit buses more to commute to and from work. With the recent Metro Blue line closure for maintenance, thousands of commuters are forced to board shuttle buses throughout the year.

During the couple of weeks that I have been commuting on the shuttle buses, I have noticed some things that need further attention. Whenever I ride on any bus, I always request full wheelchair securements, i.e. four tie downs for my wheelchair as well as a lap seat beat that goes around my entire wheelchair. The four wheelchair securements are supposed to restrict a wheelchair from moving no more than 2-inches in any direction, and the seatbelt is there to restrict passengers from falling out of the chair during transit.

Personally, I think full securements should be mandatory, especially since buses are not exempt from accidents… however at this time, full securements will remain an option for passengers. What concerns me more is the fact that when the bus operators ask me if I want full securements they are often surprised when I say yes and even more confused when I request the seat belt; apparently many wheelchair riders do not request this service. To make matters worse… I have to practical train each bus operator on how to use the securements and where the seat belt is located.

This isridiculous! I should not be training bus operators on how to properly secure passengers: this is something that they should be well-trained on, including sensitivity and patience. My trip should not be delayed for departure by over 15 minutes because they are unaware how to properly secure a wheelchair that has designated securement locks. It is completely inefficient and not only delays my commute but also every passenger on the bus with me. So you can imagine my surprise when my friend shared a video with me on Instagram from Metro LA showcasing their yearly wheelchair securement competition for bus operators who are the best at providing safe and secure rides for wheelchair riders.

This year, Woody Thomas from Division 2 won the award, which is great but where is Woody when I need to safely travel on the bus? Where is the training for all the bus operators that look like a deer in headlights when I request basic securements?! I understand that I am in the minority with my full securement requests, and many bus operators may not have everyday experience; however, what is MetroLA doing to keep their bus operators trained and knowledgeable? My safety is important and if Metro can produce an annual “securement competition” I think consistently training their bus operators on accessibility services should be a TOP PRIORITY.

According to MetroLA’s Office of Civil Rights ADA Compliance Wheelchair Accessibility Report, MetroLA provides a yearly Sustainment Training, which includes a “segment” on wheelchair securement and a Disability Awareness Training, which focuses on the treatment of disabled passengers. This all sounds good, and of course the report will indicate MetroLA is meeting or exceeding their goals, but on the frontline of service I don’t see bus operators that reflect such training, more often I experience buses being cleared for operation when the securements are faulty. Below you will see a snippet of the report.

I think MetroLA needs to offer more accessibility training for their operators and supervisors at least twice a year, make full securements mandatory, and stop allowing buses on the road that have faulty securement devices. Riding on a bus with no safety precautions is dangerous for anyone, but for passengers with reduced mobility or those who use wheelchairs, it can be detrimental. Many of us do not have the ability to brace for impact or stop ourselves from tipping over, so the securements are the next best thing to protect ourselves.

I hope that for others that ride public transportation as a differently-abled passenger, whether it be bus, rail, or a reduced mobility share-ride service such as Access Services — don’t be silent when you see operators are not knowledgeable or not providing you courteous care. It is your right to demand a safe trip with a properly trained operator. As for me, I plan to attend the next Accessibility Advisory Committee meeting, where I will voice my concerns and demand a change in the importance of frequent trainings and knowledgeable operators on the streets of Los Angeles!

Until next time, this is my world… on wheelz

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