Aside from the stations where you must use an elevator to get the trains, it always seems like most of the subway station elevators Gothamist sees are out of order. And the AP had an enlightening article about the sorry state of subway elevators when a reporter accompanied a Disabled Riders Association coordinator underground.
When Michael Harris powered his motorized wheelchair off the No. 5 subway train in Brooklyn last week, he encountered a familiar sight. The elevator to the street was broken.
Stranded, the 22-year-old turned to a station agent for help and was told to try backtracking three stops to the next-closest station with a working lift. From there, he could catch a bus.
Frustrated, Harris dialed 911 instead.
A team of firefighters soon arrived to hoist his 300-pound wheelchair to the surface. They carried Harris out on a gurney, "like the ones they use to carry dead bodies out of burning buildings,'' he said.
To many, the episode might seem like an overreaction, but Harris said was simply fed up with repeated breakdowns and unhelpful workers in a subway system that is barely wheelchair-friendly to begin with.
"The maintenance is terrible,'' said Harris, a coordinator for an advocacy group called the Disabled Riders Coalition. "If you're stuck on a platform with no way to get out, what if there's a fire?''
Later, Harris had to transfer to three different trains in order to reach a station that was accessible. Only 55 of the 469 subway stations are wheelchair-accessible. The MTA says it has a "rapid response team" to fix elevators within the first 24 hours of being notified, but the Manahttan Borough President's office issued a report saying that the average elevator are out of service for 13 days. Which we don't think is rapid, even by MTA standards.
It remains to be seen whether the MTA will be sued, as Chicago's CTA and Boston's MBTA have been over their accessibility. But it's pretty sad that, as in the AP story, subway riders get annoyed with people in wheelchairs trying to get around platforms. And last week, John Waters told New York magazine, "I’m just glad I’m not crippled, because I hate the bus. Every block takes a hundred hours."
Photograph of Michael Harris at the Brooklyn Bridge station by Adam Rountree/AP