Wheelchair Users Can’t Always Roll Onto the Rocket

Jordan Lavoie was excited to ride one of the new Toronto Rocket trains recently, but was disappointed to find out he couldn’t wheel his chair onto the train.
Jordan demonstrates his problem for Star reporter Amy Dempsey.

The TTC is apologizing to riders with disabilities who are struggling to roll their wheelchairs onto the city’s new Toronto Rocket subway trains.

The Rockets, which cost about $1 billion in total and are being paid for by all three levels of government, include many new accessibility features, including three flip-up seats to accommodate wheelchairs, mobility devices and strollers. Decals and blue lights on the train exterior indicate the doors closest to those designated accessible areas.

But, depending on the station and the passenger loads they’re carrying, the new trains sometimes sit too high above the platform for wheelchair users to

The first time a Toronto Rocket pulled up in front of Jordan Lavoie, 22, at Eglinton, he couldn’t get his motorized wheelchair up over the threshold.

“It’s a nice train, but if you can’t get on it, the interior doesn’t matter,” he said.

Lavoie, a freelance graphic designer who has muscular dystrophy, rode the Toronto Rocket with the Toronto Star last week from Eglinton station to York Mills. His first attempt to roll his chair onto the train failed. The front wheel went sideways when it couldn’t make the jump of about 5 centimetres (2 inches) up to the door.

But Lavoie reversed his wheelchair and took a run at the train and managed to board. At York Mills, the train was much closer to the platform height and
he had no difficulty getting off.

Lavoie plays wheelchair hockey and says he’s heard complaints from friends, including a similar problem at the Dundas station.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross confirmed the Toronto Rocket’s door threshold is not parallel with the platform, causing some problems for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices.

“When large numbers of people disembark (the Toronto Rocket) reacts much more quickly than the (older) T1 or H cars and pumps the air suspension up … . It’s compensating to the floor height much more quickly,” said Ross.

The old T1 subways have worn wheels and tracks so they ride lower than the new trains, he said.

The TTC’s engineers are looking for solutions.

“We need to do some more work with the train to try and compensate for those height differentials based on loads,” said Ross.

The issue didn’t emerge in the months spent testing the trains and it’s not predictable in terms of where and when in the system it will happen, he said.

“It’s safe to say, when we’re testing the trains we’re not testing them with 1,000 people on a train. It’s a new vehicle, brand-new technology. This is
a minor kink we are aware of and we can resolve fairly quickly,” Ross said.

He would not speculate, however, on how long it will take to fix the problem, saying only that, “By the time the entire Yonge-University subway is running
with Toronto Rockets we will have resolved this issue.”

There are four Toronto Rockets in service now on the line, which requires about 47 trains to serve rush-hour crowds.

The TTC has ordered 70 of the six-car trains. But it will be two years more before they’re all in service. Rider response to the new trains has been overwhelmingly positive, Ross said.

If someone can’t board a Rocket train, he advises waiting for the next, most likely an older train that will accommodate the rider’s needs.

Lavoie says the TTC’s explanation sounds “plausible.”

However, he says, “It seems silly that I can’t get on unless it’s busy.”

Reproduced from http://www.thestar.com/news/transportation/article/1059486–wheelchair-users-can-t-always-roll-onto-the-rocket?bn=1