Mack Male and his wife Sharon Yeo live in downtown Edmonton and are avid users of the transit system. That lifestyle didn’t change when their daughter was born.
But on Tuesday afternoon, the couple hit a snag while trying to leave the Stadium LRT station with their stroller: the elevator was out of service, and a notice told users to go to the next station.
That’s not an easy task when the closest LRT stations in either direction are more than a kilometre away: Coliseum Station is 1.5 kilometres to the north and Churchill Station 1.7 kilometres to the south.
“I thought this was crazy,” Male said.
“Sharon and I are both active ETS riders, but far too often we have experiences that make it really difficult to champion public transit in our city.”
The station has one elevator, as well as one escalator that only goes up, and two wide sets of stairs.
The couple ended up carrying their stroller and their one-year-old daughter down the stairs. On their way home, they waited for a bus so they didn’t have to carry everything back up the stairs.
Male said he understands maintenance needs to be done, especially at older stations like Stadium, but said for the city to expect people to check every stop before they ride the LRT is unreasonable.
“We are fortunate to be able-bodied and happened to be together when we encountered the sign, but it was definitely a reality check.
“What if you were on your own or in a wheelchair?”
He said closures reinforces the idea that people on foot are treated as second-class citizens.
“If we’re serious about getting more Edmontonians to use public transit, it needs to work.
“We’re not going to get people out of their cars if taking the bus or the train is such a hassle.”
The elevator was up and running again on Wednesday.
The city said the Stadium LRT elevator wasn’t leveling property and was out of service for about 5.5 hours Tuesday.
Ward 1 councillor Andrew Knack called the sign frustrating and said telling people to go to another LRT station isn’t feasible.
“I think we need to be careful in how we think about those detours,” he said.
“There’s got to be some other solutions we need to reflect on, and I think we might want to take that to a group like the accessibility advisory committee to say, ‘What can we do to help in situations like this?'”
Zachary Weeks, who was born with cerebral palsy, said he was not surprised to see the elevator out of order.
Weeks said navigating the snow in a wheelchair, then arriving to see an elevator isn’t working is more than just a simple detour.
“It needs to be better,” he told Global News.
“Citizens with disabilities are an afterthought and we have to change that.”
The city posts real-time updates on elevator and escalator maintenance on its website.
Weeks said checking a website before you head to the LRT adds one more step to a long commute. He suggested an app that would alert people to maintenance issues.
WATCH BELOW (April 30, 2018): The team that won Edmonton’s HealthHack contest designed a map that aims to make the city more accessible for wheelchair users. As Emily Mertz explains, the developers found some parts of the city hard to navigate.
Knack said the city is making some progress.
“We’ve taken some good steps forward but absolutely we’ve got a lot of work to do to make this a truly accessible city.”
Knack said new LRT design, with ground-level stations will help.
The city said where feasible, new stations will also have two elevators and maintenance work will alternate so one elevator will always be available.
If someone arrives to find an elevator out of service, the city said call 311 for help.
If that doesn’t work, it said to use the blue emergency phone and an ETS staff member will arrange a shuttle.
The city acknowledged the wording of the Stadium LRT sign was “insufficient” and it is reviewing the language to make improvements.
In November 2018, the city released renderings showing what a redesigned Stadium LRT station would look like, if the plans are approved by Edmontonians and city council.
One of the most significant proposed changes would be the elimination of the underground access, washrooms, security, escalators and stairs. Passengers would access the platforms at ground level, via ramps on either end.
The city said the redesign would improve accessibility and safety.
Male hopes as Edmonton builds more LRT stations, plans are in place to accommodate everyone during break downs and maintenance. He noted the low-floor stations being built on the Valley LRT Line between Mill Woods and Downtown should help increase access for everyone.