“Imposing it, according to the Florida judge, is illegal. But recommending is not illegal. And all science shows that wearing a mask is protective of you and everyone else who is with you,” said Phil Posner. there is a chairman of the committee.
Advocating for the use of masks on board buses and trains is a priority for the group, which advises Metro on improvements in accessibility. In recent years, the committee has successfully pushed for improvements such as better station lighting, non-slip platform tiles and clearer announcements in stations.
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During the corona pandemic, the committee – which reports to Metro’s board – is pushing for a fixed price MetroAccess paratransit service, for more bus investments and better messages at stations about elevator interruptions.
The Washington Post spoke with Posner, a retired academic with a doctorate in medical sciences who has been a committee member for 15 years, about the challenges for the region’s disabled and elderly residents who depend on transit, and the effects of covid-19 on transportation. Posner, 77, is a visiting professor at the University of Florida and an advocate for multiple sclerosis patients.
This interview has been easily edited for length and clarity.
Q: Metro is working to bring riders back. What does it take for some in the disabled community to get back on the bus and trains?
ONE: Metro is trying very hard. They improve their ventilation systems in the buses and in the trains. It helps. But I can tell you that we have people coming to our committee meetings and they are talking about how uncomfortable they are now that the buses or railcars are getting crowded and there are people coughing. I know when I’m gone out and there’s someone without a mask sitting next to me, I’m just getting up and moving. Sometimes it is very difficult to do so if the cars or platforms are overcrowded.
Q: The mask requirement in public transport was important for people with disabilities who travel by train and bus?
ONE: It may be inconvenient for some, but what is a life worth? As a country, we must find out how to protect the most vulnerable. Most of the people I know with disabilities have multiple disorders. Many of them are more susceptible to covid. They are immunocompromised or they have diabetes. They are less likely to want to go out where there are crowds. And they are very, very nervous about using a system that many people have on. It’s not the system’s fault. It’s the fault of the pandemic. And part of that is people’s fault, because there are always people who will ignore the recommendations, and we can only wish that everyone was sweet and considerate. We strongly urge Metro to recommend wearing masks.
Q: Given the risks in crowds, do people opt for MetroAccess instead, and is that service back to normal operation?
ONE: To MetroAccess [users], it has become better. In the old days, MetroAccess was only available when there was a parallel bus or rail route. When bus and train shut down, there was no MetroAccess available. I remember almost every month we had a bunch of church people coming in and saying, ‘We can not get a MetroAccess ride on Sunday because the bus route does not run on Sunday.’ Due to the pandemic, Metro changed it and MetroAccess is now available 24-7.
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Q: What must Metro do now to make the system more accessible and an easier and convenient option for seniors and people with disabilities?
ONE: We are trying to get a fixed price for MetroAccess. [General Manager] Paul J. Wiedefeld got the idea that on weekends bus costs and took 2 $. That is it. It’s not $ 7 to go from one end of the line to the other. It’s $ 2 everywhere. As a result, MetroAccess has a fixed price of $ 4 during these hours. It’s twice the $ 2 bus and Metro fare. So we are asking Metro to extend the fixed rate on MetroAccess to 24/7. So every time you take a MetroAccess ride, you know what to pay. Sometimes it’s $ 4 to go somewhere and $ 6 to get home. Please simplify ticket prices.
We also ask them to follow the recommendations of the bus transformation project to improve bus service, including in rural and under-protected areas. There are areas in Prince George’s County and Fairfax County where buses run every 30 minutes or every hour. And worse than that, there are no sidewalks. And so if you are on crutches or in a wheelchair, you can not get to the bus stop.
Q: Where do you start addressing it?
ONE: For the disabled community, when we talk about transportation, we are talking about transportation from our bed to our destination. When I get up in the morning, I have to find out: ‘Does my building have an elevator to get me to the ground? Does it have an automatic door so I could get out of the building. ‘ And then when I’m outside: ‘Do I actually have a sidewalk? Has it broken down and has bicycles parked in it and courier cars parked in it? ‘
It is an ongoing struggle. The beautiful thing is that the federal [infrastructure] the funds focus on transport in rural areas and there is money available, but the localities have to apply for the money that they can use to improve the bus stops. WMATA is working with the jurisdictions now to improve bus stops and [access] to bus stops. And it will take time.
Q: How much progress has Metro made to make the system more accessible since you were on the committee?
ONE: That has changed a lot. 3000 and 4000 [series] cars had all these rods going from floor to ceiling. We used to call them bird cages because a wheelchair user would come on and suddenly they were trapped. They could not move around the car and it was very difficult for them to turn around. And so that was one of the first big changes. We managed to get the poles removed in the 6000 and 7000 cars.
All the flashing lights and extrasensory strips on all platforms were not always there and now they have finally implemented them throughout the system. All platforms have them for the blind so they can see when they are approaching the edge of the platform.
They have improved the seats so that they are bigger and there are handles on all the seats. There are plenty of places where you can hold and not have to reach up to the ceiling. They have made corrections to reduce slipping on the platforms and in the trains, because when it snows or rains, there is a lot of water coming into the station and things get wet and slippery.
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Q: What motivated you to join the Metro’s Advisory Committee?
ONE: I grew up in New York City. I lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco when they created BART. I lived in England and in Paris and I knew what their metro systems were like. The metro was one of the reasons my wife and I moved here. We had lived in Florida and Alabama. There was no good bus connection or paratransit. So we had an opportunity in 2004 to move here and the transportation was great. And then we saw an ad from WMATA for the Elderly and Disability Committee. And then I searched and said, ‘Well, I’m older and disabled, so why not, and I’m driving the Metro.
Q: How is Metro’s availability compared to other systems?
ONE: I think it is in the top 5 in each category. WMATA’s availability compared to, for example, New York is 100 percent better. I remember when I lived in New York, everyone always got sick because you walked from a station at street level down into a tunnel with too much air conditioning. So back up to the street where it was very hot and there was no escalator or elevator. New York, Philadelphia, Bay Area has better announcements. But in terms of elevators and escalators, WMATA is just as good as any other, probably better because it’s a newer system.