Reporting Dave Savini
CHICAGO (CBS) – Steep ramps, broken concrete and inoperable doors are safety and accessibility problems CBS 2′s Investigators uncovered at various Metra train stations.
CBS 2′s Dave Savini began investigating after being contacted by George Flores, a paralyzed disability-rights advocate, who said riding public transit can be difficult for those with various disabilities.
The 2 investigators and Flores traveled the rails together to identify some troubled spots.
At the Western Avenue stop, Flores tried to maneuver his wheelchair along the ramp, but got stuck on broken concrete. It’s supposed to be a wheelchair-accessible ramp, but it has turned into one of many obstacles Flores says causes problems for people with disabilities trying to use Metra daily.
Another problem — Flores said he got stuck on a train at Union Station, when a Metra worker — who was supposed to lower a lift — forgot about him.
“I have no way to get off this train,” said Flores in video he shot of himself on a Metra train. “He left me on the train and I can’t get off because of my wheelchair.”
Flores said he shouted until someone found a conductor to let him off.
“There you are,” said Flores as he is helped off the train. “Unbelievable.”
He had other safety and accessibility complaints, too, including the lack of hooks or straps on trains to lock in wheelchairs.
“No way to secure myself other than to physically hold on,” Flores said while recording himself on a train. “There is literally nothing holding this 300- to 400-pound wheelchair from rolling backwards into myself.”
Next, at the Cicero Avenue station, Flores would have been stranded, had CBS 2 not been with him. The system that opens the door, leading to the elevator he requires to exit the platform, was not working.
“I’m trapped at this station,” Flores said. “This is horrible.”
After pushing a nearby call button a Metra operator said, “Well, things do break.”
At the Jefferson Park station, the Metra website indicated there would be parking and access for people with disabilities. In reality, the parking was blocks away. To get from there to the station, a wheelchair-bound person had to travel through tunnels, down city streets, past a bus depot, up steep ramps and through difficult doors to catch a train.
Flores said he would not consider this equal access for people with disabilities.
The website for the Irving Park stop also said there is parking for those with disabilities, but again that information was wrong. There is a small loading zone leading to a mountain of ramps that a person in a wheelchair would have to overcome just to get to the platform.
Without designated parking spots or clear paths, Flores was forced into the street to enter platforms at the Irving Park station.
The Cicero Avenue station also was advertised on Metra’s website as having parking for people with disability placards, but there was no parking for them at all at that stop either.
Finally, we did find parking at the Western Avenue station, but a Metra worker was parked in the only other spot reserved for commuters with disabilities.
A Metra official said they will fix their website to correctly indicate parking accessibility. They also said they are going to fix broken concrete and examine the slope on ramps.
The elevator access door at Cicero has been repaired, but they said — by law — they do not have to install wheelchair locking mechanisms on trains, because Metra trains are regulated under heavy rail transportation standards and locking mechanisms are not required.
A Metra official also said Flores was not forgotten on the train. They claimed the conductor was making sure everyone else was off the train before he came back to service Flores.
Flores has, however, now been invited to speak before Metra’s disability-related committee.