(the following is a letter which I am mailing today to my local commuter train official)
January 26, 2006
Manager, Accessible Transit Services
Joint Powers Board
1250 San Carlos Avenue
P O Box 3006
San Carlos, CA 94070-1306
Dear Mr. Welch:
My last correspondence with you was December 3, 2004, in which you addressed issues I had brought to your attention regarding my experiences riding Caltrain, including the maximum 2 wheelchairs per train rule. At the conclusion of that letter, you offered to meet with me, at my request, should I have additional issues to discuss.
At this time, I am writing to document my most recent negative experience, and to request that meeting. Before I describe the events of January 24th, I would like to make a couple of general remarks.
Not Being Let off the Train at My Stop
For the record, since I started riding the train in April of 2004, I have been forgotten by the conductor and kept on the train past my stop for a total of 4 times. Three of these times were by the same conductor, once by another.
In each case, I had informed the conductor of my destination. I want to be clear that I do not attribute any malice to these occurrences. Rather I raise it as an issue because there was no way for me to alert the conductor/remind him at my station, when he was not present. This is something you should definitely consider when you review procedures, and also when you buy new car equipment.
Good Customer Service
Without exception, since I wrote last, all of the conductors have been courteous and appropriate.
No PNA Car [PNA="person needs assistance" which is how the conductors refer to passengers in wheelchairs]
This brings me to the incident of January 24, 2006.
I wanted to go Northbound from the Palo Alto Station to Hillsdale. I was at the station in plenty of time for the 6:24pm train, train 281.
When the train arrived, Manny, the conductor, came to me on the platform and told me that the train had been “sent out without a PNA car”. This meant, to me, that he didn’t have a car with a lift, nor with a place for me to park my wheelchair. I asked him if the crank lift would work, but he said he would only be able to put me in the bike car, and he was worried about my safety there. I consciously decided not to push the issue, primarily because I knew there would be another train in a ½ hour.
Mr. Welch, I want to be very, very clear with you. In your 4 page letter of December 3, 2004, you gave many, many reasons for all of the practical and legal reasons that it is excusable for Caltrain to give unequal treatment and service to persons who use wheelchairs on the train. While I understand your motivation in taking refuge in these arguments, at bottom I believe them to be specious and hollow.
The bottom line, when you cut away all of the rhetoric is that I do not receive equal services by a public transit agency because I am a member of a minority group, a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair. I pay taxes, I work full-time – I am not, figuratively or literally, looking for a free ride. I am, however, looking for an equal opportunity to utilize public transit.
Sending a train out without a car that can accommodate wheelchairs and not having a contingency plan, i.e., “if you get a wheelchair passenger, put them in the bike car, and put them in this location”, is discriminatory on its face and violates my civil rights.
I am copying several consumer reporters on this letter in the hope that they will draw public attention to this matter.
Ironic Twist to the Story
The incident on January 24th involving the lack of the PNA car followed by one day on the heels of another Caltrain day for me.
In winter of last year, I was a witness to an incident in which another Caltrain passenger threatened a conductor in my presence. This case came to trial on January 23rd, 2005 and I was subpoenaed to be a witness. The courthouse was the one located at 270 Grant Ave., in Palo Alto. The closest train station to the courthouse is the one at California Ave., but I couldn’t use it because that station is inaccessible.
So, I took an afternoon off work to get there, and was ready to testify; the defendant pled to a lesser charge at the last minute, so I didn’t ultimately testify. However, it was a good portion of a day spent in the service of Caltrain with no personal gain whatsoever, and a good deal of inconvenience to me. (The courthouse itself is not a model of accessibility, but that is another tale.)
If you think it would accomplish anything for you and me to meet, I am willing to do so. However, if you have no tangible changes in Caltrain procedure to offer, then it would be a waste of time on both our parts to rehash old excuses for the times Caltrain has violated my civil rights in the last 18 months.
Again, let me be clear. I am not just talking about legal regulations pertaining very specifically to the rail industry, and the timelines that have been ever extended in that regard. I am talking about clear discrimination from equal access to public services on the basis of being a member of a class which is protected, that of persons with disabilities. I don’t think this would be a very difficult issue for a jury to understand.
Whether you think about it in this way or not, when I hear “we don’t have a PNA car” or “we already have 2 wheelchairs”, it has the same effect on me as I imagine it would on an Asian person told, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any Asian seats on this train. You’ll have to wait for the next one.” It is discrimination against an entire class of people because of a personal characteristic.
Teri A. Adams, J.D.
P.S. In the interest of sensitivity to M.S., your assistant, and the fact that I am also going to publish this letter in my blog, I will not use his name here. However, I beseech you not to have him respond to this letter in anyway. I find him to be mealy-mouthed, insincere apologist and clueless when it comes to disability-related issues. His blanket response to all issues seems to be a free train pass. Considering the fact that I have an annual pass from my employer, this is coals to Newcastle – and if I can’t get on the train (or get off at my stop) then the price of admission is hardly the point.