MAX accessibility

One disadvantage of spending a lot of time working with/thinking about/talking about the trains is that it becomes easy to forget that just because something is obvious to me does not mean that it’s also going to be obvious to tourists or other people who don’t ride the trains often (why no, most people do not have the motto “Eat… Sleep… Run trains”).

Case in point: I was downtown last week on one of my days off, walking east on Morrison near the Pioneer Courthouse and Pioneer Place Mall. I crossed 5th Ave and saw a woman in a wheelchair on the westbound platform waiting up near where the lead cab of the train would stop. Looking further down Morrison, I saw the train that would be coming in had a Type 1 as the lead car.

Type 1 with doors open at BTC – not wheelchair accessible because of stairs, no bridgeplates (and wheelchair lifts are no longer used)

So to save her (and the operator of that train) some time, I mentioned to the woman that the front car of the incoming train would have stairs and no ramp, so she would have an easier time boarding if she went further down the platform to where the low-floor would stop. She thanked me for letting her know and asked “How were you able to tell? I’ve never known where to wait to get on.”

Type 1, Type 3, Type 2, Type 4. Elmo Yard

I pointed out the windshield of the train: Type 1s, which are the only cars in the fleet with stairs and no bridgeplates, are also the only ones with a bevelled cab where the cab windows flank the windshield, making it look like the windshield is in three pieces. You can tell a Type 1 at a distance because all of the rest have a single pane windshield and the cab windows are on the sides. If you see a train with a 3-piece windshield coming in, then the front car of that train has stairs and the trailing car will be a low-floor with bridgeplates (this keeps every train ADA accessible).

Picture courtesy of a friend at Millikan Way – approaching eastbound train with Type 1 lead car

Elmonica eastbound platform – that’s a low-floor as the lead car

I also said that since the cars with stairs are always coupled to a low-floor car with bridgeplates, the best place for people waiting to board with a mobility device is about halfway down the platform. That way, it doesn’t matter whether the leading or trailing car is the low-floor, the passengers will have at most half a car length to go to get to a door with bridgeplates. This is mentioned on TriMet’s webpage, but I don’t think it’s very well-known because I see a lot of people who will need bridgeplates waiting at one end of the platform instead of the middle (in which case they’ll need to go almost a car-length and a half, or roughly 140 feet, to get to a bridgeplate door if the end they’re waiting at gets a Type 1). Not a small distance to cover in a hurry!

Related to this, I went back and dug up a post I remembered of Al M‘s from a while back showing video of a TriMet board meeting where a panel gave a presentation on serving the needs of an aging society. One of the comments brought up during their talk (at about 40min 30sec in the video, I looked it up so you don’t have to) was that they wanted to see the low-floor car always in the same location on every train – by which I’m assuming they mean something like the trailing car will always be a low-floor so people with disabilities know where to wait for easier boarding. They thought this had “been addressed” but “apparently that’s not the case, it still moves around and makes it hard for people with disabilities to know where to be on the platform.”

My Twitter background. On the left, Train 9 had a trailing Type 1 coming in westbound to Hatfield; it will have a leading Type 1 going east to Cleveland

Looking at the video of the meeting, I don’t think anyone responded to this at the time, but the answer is that it does not work, practically speaking, to always have the low-floor car be in the same place. The alignment isn’t a loop on which the trains run in a circle which would allow the same car to always be in the front. At the ends of the lines, operators switch cabs – what had been the trailing car coming in is now the leading car going out. It’s not going to happen that a pit crew will be on hand to uncouple the cars, shuffle them, and recouple so that the cars will be in the same position going out as they were coming in (though that would be pretty cool, now that I think about it..) There really isn’t anything to “address” with this, aside from TriMet proactively educating people with disabilities on where to wait to board the trains. More outreach needed maybe?

Bridgeplate, Type 2

One more thing about the bridgeplates that often isn’t known by people who aren’t regular MAX commuters is that the doors must be closed for the bridgeplates to deploy and retract. Many passengers who aren’t used to how the bridgeplates work will see the doors start to close and force them to reopen because they think they’re going to be left behind. This is how the doors are designed to work though, and the doors will reopen once the bridgeplate is extended. If you need the bridgeplate and the operator sees you, they can be deployed from inside the cab. This is faster than hitting the blue bridgeplate release button outside the train since you’d have to wait for the doors to close first. However, if the operator does not see you and deploy the bridgeplates for you, you can use that button yourself as long as the doors are open or on release. The doors will close, the bridgeplate will extend, and then the doors will reopen so that you can board the train.

6 responses to “MAX accessibility

  1. Could it not be all north and east bound train the accessible car will be in front all south and west bound it will be in back, no problem with the driver then the platform can be marked with a sign for accessibility and an arrow. I always wait mid platform as in addition to having limited physical ability I am visually impaired and can not see where the accessible car is until the train is almost at a full stop. I know things might happen and the trains might get switched but even if it works 90% of the time it would be worth it.

    • That’s an interesting idea but I think there are still some logistical problems with it. As Jason mentioned, that wouldn’t work as well with the Yellow & Green Line trains because of how those lines run together (the leading car heading north on 205 from Clackamas will lead south on the downtown mall, then north back up the mall and out to Expo – then the other car will lead south on Interstate, through downtown, and then south to Clackamas). And there could also be issues with how trains are stored in the yard to always bring them out with one particular car leading.

      On top of that, it would still require a lot of outreach from TriMet to let people know which car will always be accessible. Right now at the very least I think it needs to be more clear that people who will need bridgeplates to board should wait in the middle of the platform to have the easiest access.

      Thank you for your input on this.

  2. I think there at least used to also be a footnote on the timetables about waiting mid-platform. But restricting high-floor cars to either the easterly or westerly half of Blue Line trains would work; it would just mean that trains need to be brought out of the yard in a certain way. Green and Yellow Line trains would have to be restricted to low-floor cars as trains do loop downtown.

    Also, ideally instead of the bridge plates there would be completely level boarding. However, I’ve heard that the problem is that cars aren’t always at the same height. Plus, there would still be a gap between the train and platform.

  3. Also, at night, a way to tell a Type 1 is approaching the front car is that the front headlights are spaced closer together (due to the curved cab). I bring my bike with me out to work in Hillsboro (8 min bike ride from Max vs. 30+ min bus), and am always trying to find the low floor cars.

  4. A very nice description of a just a little bit complicated situation (e.g. the re-opening door).

    Although I have to say, here in Europe, I know way fewer systems that are fully accessible than not. (the subways built in the last 30 years, basically.)

    • Yeah, I think the accessibility has been a trade-off… it’s extremely easy for people to quickly get on and off MAX since most stops are at street-level, but that also considerably slows down travel time. I know a lot of people have put forth the idea of a tunnel under downtown because the frequent stops & 15mph speed limit really does make getting across downtown slow, but that would come at the sacrifice of street-level accessibility.

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