MTA on schedule with broken promises Once again, no lift for disabled man

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

August 30, 1993

Todd Smith is tired of the Mass Transit Administration's broken promises, and, frankly, the Intrepid Commuter can't blame him.

Last week, the 26-year-old Elkridge resident rode the MTA's Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train to an Orioles game at Camden Yards with humiliating results.

Mr. Smith has spina bifida, a congenital disorder of the nervous system that causes paralysis of the legs. He uses a wheelchair.

So three months -- count 'em, three months -- before he was scheduled to take a MARC train from the Savage station, he reserved a wheelchair lift. The lift makes it possible for him to get from the low railroad platform into the coach without assistance.

Mr. Smith even checked with MARC the day before to confirm his Aug. 24 reservation for the lift. He was assured it would be there.

Faithful readers can guess what happened next.

The wheelchair lift was nowhere to be found. The conductor and assistant conductor had to carry him and his wheelchair into the train. Then they had to carry him over the seats of three coaches at the end of the trip to get him into a car that faced the high platform at Camden Station.

Mr. Smith is grateful for the help, but imagine his humiliation. Few disabled people want to be treated like a child.

"They've promised me in the past this wouldn't happen, and it's happened again and again," says Mr. Smith, who has encountered this problem twice before on MARC.

MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. called Mr. Smith Friday and apologized for the debacle. His staff blames the incident on a "communications" problem. Somehow, MARC's operations center wasn't aware of the lift reservation.

"This is a human dignity issue, and I feel strongly about it," Mr. Agro says. "That's not much I can say to this gentleman that can change what happened, but I wanted him to know it's not the culture and philosophy of this organization to allow this kind of thing to happen."

Nevertheless, access for the disabled has long been a problem for MARC. Two of the three MARC lines, the Camden and Brunswick,are operated by CSX Transportation Inc.

CSX is a freight company. As a result, its stations have lower platforms than Amtrak stations. As we've discussed in this column before, that presents difficulties -- even for the able-bodied.

Last year, the MTA designated 19 of the 38 MARC stations to be made accessible as required by the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Savage is one of the stations to be upgraded under the MTA's $1 million, two-year program.

"Savage is one of the places where we still need to make major improvements," Mr. Agro says.

What are you doing when lights go out?

Blockheads!

Intrepid Commuter doesn't want to further offend the delicate sensibilities of our readers, but we are a bit peeved at some forgetful motorists.

Imbeciles!

Perhaps it's a case of widespread mental blackout. When a recent thunderstorm knocked out all power at a Maryland Avenue traffic intersection, most of the cars around

paid no attention.

Sometimes, a brief power outage or fluctuation will cause a signal to start flashing yellow or red. Drivers seem to know what to do under that circumstance.

But what happens when a signal is blank?

That seems to confuse people.

Marsha Collins, spokeswoman for the city Public Works Department, says intersections with blank traffic lights should be treated like four-way stops.

In fact, she says, when her department finds out about such problems, "our people go out and place stop signs at these intersections while the repairs are being affected to reinforce that idea."

"We're asking people to use common sense," Ms. Collins says. "You have to approach the intersections with caution and make a full stop."

She asks that when people see a traffic signal wiped out by a power outage, they report it to the city's traffic communications center at 396-3050.

Meanwhile, Intrepid Commuter will try to use less coarse language to describe the detestable miscreants, scamps, varlets, knaves and scoundrels who ignore the law.

KEEP IN TOUCH

Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.

Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.

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