Is it right that Translink (Vancouver’s Rapid Transit System) makes Burrard Station Inaccessible?

I live in Vancouver, BC and was reading the local 24 newspaper a few weeks ago and stumbled across an article, maybe a quarter of a page wide, warning transit users that Skytrain’s (Vancouver’s Rapid Transit System) Burrard Station would be closing down elevator service. They did not give a very detailed end date, only mentioning that, effective September 26th,  2011, the elevator would be inaccessible at that station. TransLink claims that the elevator at this SkyTrian station will be closed for approximately four months due to the construction of fairgates at the station.

Faregates are 1.3 metre tall structures with paddle-style turnstiles that will be installed at every station in the system over the next year and a half. That means a total of 400 gates, of which 150 will be wheelchair-accessible. These gates will enable TransLink to better prevent people from riding the train without paying for it. Although I can understand TransLink going the way of most other subways by installing turnstiles; I do not understand why accessibility has to be restricted for this to happen.

I realize that our SkyTrain system is not without its flaws, and is regularly broken down in some respect (over five times in the ten years I’ve used it). My primary concern when I read this article was the fact that it made no mention of what might happen in the event that a wheelchair bound individual needed to be evacuated. Only on their website does TransLink mention that “Passengers requiring assistance are to pick up the red emergency phone or speak to SkyTrain staff.” However it doesn’t really say what the SkyTrain staff will be able to do to help. I can’t really picture them hauling a power chair up two or three flights of stairs. So what is their plan of action? Is there one? This has been poorly communicated.

Not only did TransLink give little warning that this closure would be occurring, they also gave elevator users a rather poor solution of boarding the train using the elevator at either Waterfront (at least a 5-10 minute wheel from Burrard), or Granville (same distance). This isn’t a totally unreasonable solution, still I do feel that it should have been handled a little better. It seems as though individuals who are affected most by this closure were kind of sidelined in the pursuit of “progress”.

The communication could have been much better. For instance, it is still unclear why the operation of the elevator needs to be stopped because of the installation of turnstiles. Caitlin (a dear friend of mine who is in a wheelchair) only found out about this closure by looking up at the scrolling announcement screen while waiting for the SkyTrain. I just hope the estimated four months of construction doesn’t take any longer, and that the elevator which many people rely on can be used again as soon as possible.