Disabled riders especially feel pain of elevator outages

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir,Metro and Traffic

The breakdowns and repairs to Metro's elevators and escalators are especially hard on disabled riders such as Hyman Cole.

The 62-year-old engineer has used crutches to get around for the past decade and cannot walk up or down stairs. So when Metro escalators are down, he must take an elevator. When both are down, he is trapped.

"Every time I try to use the Metro, it's an adventure," said the D.C. resident.

Metro's aggressive push to overhaul escalators and elevators on the Metro system is taking the devices out of service for months at a time. Those planned outages, plus the unexpected breakdowns of the aging equipment, mean that the system is getting harder to navigate even as Metro is pushing more disabled riders to use its rail system instead of its pricey MetroAccess service for the disabled.

MetroAccess ridership is down 2.7 percent this year, a huge switch from the 20 percent annual growth of a few years ago. Metro has reduced the ridership by raising fares twice in two years, reducing the area it serves and training more than 3,000 disabled riders to use the rail and bus system.

But Cole said the lack of working elevators and escalators on Metrorail reduces access for disabled riders. He notes that as baby boomers age, it will become even harder for many to climb 200 steps on a stalled escalator.

One day, Cole was traveling from Eastern Market to Metro Center to catch the Red Line. But he said he could not get to the Shady Grove platform due to breakdowns. Instead, he had to get back on the Blue Line to ride to L'Enfant Plaza, then travel on the Green Line to Gallery Place to pick up the Red Line.

Metro provides shuttles during elevator outages, but those take time — if they arrive, he said. "I've been promised shuttles that never show up," Cole said.

He wonders why crews work only 40 hours a week on major repairs, rather than in three shifts per day to shorten the outage time from months to weeks.

Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said that would not be feasible because contractors determine the hours. "We believe the current approach used by contractors is appropriate to balance efficiency with cost," he said. - Kytja Weir

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