Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Where the Cabs Are...

...At the Mountain View Train Station

Every weekday, I take the VTA light rail from my home in Sunnyvale to the Mountain View CalTrain station. In addition to being at the end of the Winchester-Mountain View line of the light rail, CalTrain stops here, and there is considerable bus service.

One of the things I always admired about this station was how they had laid out the disabled parking. It is right next to the CalTrain south-bound platform, near to the cross-over to to get to the light rail line and to the north-bound CalTrain platform. All of the crip spaces are flush with the platform/sidewalk, so one does not have to negotiate any ramps or curbs; all of the spaces adjoin the sidewalk so the path of travel is completely safe.

Last week, when I got to the station, I was shocked to see several cabs in parked in the designated crip spaces. I watched them -- the drivers were milling about the six cabs that were waiting -- in the half hour while I waited for the train, one person came up and took a cab. Another empty cab immediately took it's place.

I called the 800 number on the cabs and reported -- what I thought -- were illegally parked cabs.

All is Not as it Appears

When I got back to Mountain View that evening, the cabs were still there. I went up to a driver and said, "How come you guys are parking here now?" He looked at me blankly -- whether flummoxed by my question or my English, another driver interceded.

"In response to a complaint," he said, gesturing to the sign posted in front of the parking space.

"Doh", I thought. This was the first time I had observed the scene from the parking lot side of the signage. Low and behold, Taxi Parking had replaced several crip spaces, and they had the signage to prove it.

"Oh," I said. "Thank you." Glad not to have screeched at him for parking in the space that he was authorized to park in...

From One Extreme to Another?

After that, I started watching the cab situation every time I was at the station, generally between 10:30 - 11 am and between 5:30 - 7 pm. Six cabs always parked -- at most I've seen one cab taken in the time I'm watching.

In the meantime, I'm guesstimating that 4 crip parking spaces have been sacrificed. And yes, most days, all of the remaining crip spaces are being used, legitimately, by people with placards. Since gas prices have gone up, I've noticed that the parking lot is pretty full, until after 6:30 pm or so in the evenings, when people start coming home from work.

A sign next to the new Taxi Parking area says that there is additional "handicap" parking at the end of the platform, but when I went to look for it last week, I couldn't find it. I did see a new asphalt ramp -- there is a curb at that end, instead of being flush -- where they may be adding a couple of crip parking spaces, but they are the equivalent of a block or more away from where they were removed. This would be okay if you were taking CalTrain, but if you are coming to the station to catch the light rail or a bus, then you have considerably increased the distance to your public transit.

Where the original spaces were designated is as close as you can get with a car to both the light rail and the designated wheelchair/disabled waiting areas for either direction of travel on CalTrain. The location of the spaces to be added, as I understand it requires a lot more travel to get to either the CalTrain crip boarding areas or the light rail.

The additional distance wouldn't be a huge hardship for me, as I use a power chair, but it would matter if I was walking with a mobility impairment, or pushed a manual chair with difficulty. It is also further away from the bulk of activity, and would be creepier the later and the darker it gets.

Playing the Crip Card

In the article in the MountainView Voice by Daniel DeBolt (http://www.mv-voice.com/story.php?story_id=1871), mentions the difficulty of catching a cab "--even those with a disability or carrying heavy bags--" had to cross the parking lot to go to Evelyn Street where the cabs were lined up. He also quotes a Mountain View resident as saying, "The easy answer is for CalTrain to carve out a half-dozen spots for taxis."

Which is exactly what they did -- six taxi spots in lieu of four crip spaces.

My Questions:

  • Did anyone do any sort of a survey to see what the actual need was for cab service -- as in how many cabs need to be parked in the station at any given time?
  • Collaterally, did anyone monitor the usage of the disabled spaces, and whether they were being used?
  • Did anyone consider the impact of the relocation of the disabled spaces that are supposedly being added at "the southern end of the platform"?

I'm not a fan of "task forces", but a judicious week long observation of the parking lot at key times, plus a few random times, should establish actual traffic patterns and not arbitrary numbers.

Of Note

At right angles to where the taxis are now parked, and where the flush crip spaces have been removed, there is a row of paid spaces. Did anyone consider converting those spaces to taxi parking instead of changing the number and designation of the disabled parking spaces? If the taxis were there, they are almost exactly as close to the train and light rail station.

First Impressions, and Second Ones

Before I heard about the article in the MountainView Voice that may have prompted this change, I thought, "somebody at the cab company" must have "greased" somebody at CalTrain or in Mountain View's government to get this put through.

Now that I know that this article appeared in the July 28th, 2006 issue of the Voice, I am amazed at how fast the change was made, having had some experience in how slowly the wheels of various governmental and quasi-governmental entities can turn. Which made me reflect on my first, erroneous impression.

I also wondered if any attempt was made to talk to any actual disabled commuters as to how this change might effect them.


When I arrive at the Mountain View station in the morning, and note that all of the crip spaces are taken, as well as the cluster of chatting taxi drivers around their stationary cabs -- it pisses me off.


Rebecca said...

It pisses me off, too. And I live three thousand miles away from Mountain View.

This sucks, sucks, sucks.

Ranter said...

Have you mentioned this new problem to anyone at the station? I'd be interested to hear what they say to you, or if they would fix the problem.