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Handicapped Riders Complain About METRORail

POSTED: 12:26 pm CDT November 1, 2007
UPDATED: 9:27 am CDT November 2, 2007

Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of an Investigators story that aired on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m.

Tonight, Local 2 Investigates looks into complaints about METRORail from those who are handicapped. Is METRO ignoring a potential danger?

You're about to see the accident critics say METRO has not investigated, and you'll hear why some who ride the rail in wheelchairs say METRO is not responding to simple problems for years.

Investigative reporter Robert Arnold uncovers the complaints, and asks why it took our investigation to force changes.

Watch closely as a double amputee in a wheelchair gets caught, falls and then becomes stranded on the METRORail tracks. Surveillance cameras from a wheelchair store near the Museum District catch it all on tape.

For two long minutes, the man is stranded on and near the tracks, unable to get back in his wheelchair. Finally, a passing car stops, and employees inside the store come out to help.

Less than three minutes later, METRO's train passes by.

"I figured something like that would happen," said Randy Burris, who owns Wheelchair & Scooter Express.

Burris says METRO knew about the potential problem, but ignored it. He says before METRO even began rail construction, he warned them about the gap between the rails.

"I said that wouldn't work because the gap is too wide and the standard wheelchair -- the wheels will get caught," Burris said.

One day after the accident, Burris -- who's clearly an outspoken opponent of rail -- sent a letter asking METRO to look at the video. Three months later, no one from METRO has responded.

"It falls on deaf ears," Burris said.

"We tracked down the man who fell on the tracks, but the proud veteran didn't want to talk with us on camera," said investigative reporter Robert Arnold. "However, he did say the accident you saw was the second time the gap in the rail caused him to fall."

"We hope the customer is OK," said Art Jackson, manager of METRO's paratransit services. "We appreciate Channel 2 and your reporting for bringing this to our attention."

We showed the accident video to METRO's Art Jackson. In a wheelchair himself, he says METRO worked hard to make rail accessible and safe. Despite no action after the previous warnings and letters, Jackson now promises METRO will take a closer look.

"Perhaps we need to convene a meeting to discuss safety issues and make sure the rail system is operating in a safe manner," Jackson said.

But Local 2 Investigates discovered other disabled riders who say this potential problem isn't the only one.

"I don't think that management cares," said Mary Wiens, a handicapped METRO customer.

We rode a METRO train with Mary Wiens. You can quickly see why she faces a simple problem almost every time she rides.

"Would y'all mind getting up? That seat flips up," Wiens told other passengers.

The space reserved for her wheelchair looks like a regular seat. While the sign may say it's priority seating for the disabled, there's no sign letting anyone know the seat flips up so her wheelchair can fit in.

"They think I'm already sitting down, I don't need to sit in the seat," Wiens explained. "If it would say the seat flips up, then they would know it's a spot for the wheelchair to be."

So, for three years Wiens complained to METRO. She thought the solution was simple, so she even e-mailed a sign change that would clear up the confusion.

We found METRO's own blog highlighted the problem back in April.

Still, nothing changed.

"Based on the results that I've gotten, I'm not very confident they even understand what I'm facing," Wiens said.

"We appreciate Channel 2 bringing this to our attention," Jackson said. "We'll be more than happy to take a look at implementing some sort of simple signage to make sure that point is communicated."

Even though Wiens complained for three years, one day after our interview, METRO put up new signs on all the trains.

A METRO spokesperson tells us she's now looking to see what took so long to make those sign changes.

Back to that first accident, METRO questions why the man was not crossing the tracks at a crosswalk.

We wondered the same thing. Friday morning on Local 2 News at 6:50 a.m. we'll show you the likely reason he didn't use the crosswalk.

Plus, we'll tell you why the problem was only repaired after we asked questions.

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