Translink’s Metrotown Skytrain Station in Burnaby, BC, has been a disgrace for many months, and has got a whole lot worse just recently. What on earth was Translink thinking, to do this to their customers just weeks before the busiest shopping season of the year? Not to mention that disabled transit users have now been inconvenienced for 21 months at this station, and the situation is getting worse instead of better.
It was too icy to cycle on Wednesday, so I used Translink’s usually wonderful Skytrain. I was utterly appalled at what I found at Metrotown Skytrain station. The conditions there are simply unbelievable.
No Escalators, no Elevators, and No Skywalk at Metrotown Skytrain Station
In spring 2014, Translink commenced an “upgrade” to the Metrotown Skytrain Station that was supposed to do all kinds of wonderful things, including increase the limited access that disabled users had. But then in February 2015, Translink caused outrage among disabled transit users when it shut down the only elevator at Metrotown Skytrain Station – the second busiest station in the entire skytrain system. At the time, Translink promised to have new a new elevator working within a year. Disabled users were understandably worried about the inconvenience of an entire year without an elevator. As can be seen in this tweet from 26 February 2015.
— Athena Cooper (@athenacooper) February 26, 2015
It’s now almost two years later, and instead of providing an elevator, Translink has removed the escalators as well! And in case that wasn’t inconvenient enough, Translink has also shut down the skywalk that previously got people over the busy Central Boulevard, from the station to the Metrotown Shopping Center. That was a wonderful covered walkway, and very handy. Apparently, Translink thought it would be a great idea to shut this walkway down just before Christmas … indefinitely. We have not been told of any plan to bring it back.
Metrotown Skytrain Station is now Horrible for ALL
Even as an able bodied person, I found the exit from Metrotown horrible. Everyone has to descend FIVE flights of stairs, three of them potentially slippery as they are made of steel. The stairways are narrow and bidirectional, so that overtaking is difficult and dangerous. Each crowd of people can only move as fast as the slowest person ahead. This leads to very slow progress, and sometimes on the turns, the entire crowd comes to a complete stop. It is just a matter of time before a slower user is knocked over or trampled.
This is quite ironic, given that when Translink started this “upgrade,” one of the reasons they gave was that “additional stairway width is needed to meet safety codes.” Congrats, Translink – years of inconvenience later, and the one remaining stairway is now narrower and much more dangerous.
Even once down the stairs, there is a torturous meandering across the road, up a narrow pathway, through a busy bus station, and up the only escalator left unscathed, to finally access the very popular Metrotown shopping center.
After shopping, getting back up to the Metrotown Skytrain Station is even worse. When I returned from shopping and was about to go up the stairs, I watched the sad sight of a senior lady inching her way slowly down the steps with her shopping cart, gripping the handrail. You can see her at the beginning of this very short video. Now just imagine how much more difficult it is going to be for this woman when she returns from shopping with a FULL shopping cart and has to drag it up five flights of stairs! HOW can we allow Translink to make people suffer like this?
Later when I went back into the station, we ALL inched our way up. You can also see the bunching up and inching in the video. When I got to the top, I saw the reason why. A senior lady had limped her way in obvious pain all the way to the top. She was stepping with her strong foot, and dragging her weaker foot. This is an excruciatingly slow way to climb five flights of stairs, especially while being pressured by hundreds of people behind you. She looked shattered by the experience.
It occurred to me that she might not have anticipated the climb would be so long. There is no warning at the bottom that you about to encounter five flights of stairs. Who expects that in a transit station? You expect that in a power failure, but not in the normal course of events.
Not Everybody is Fully Able Bodied
This woman reminded me that there are degrees of disability. Many people are just slightly disabled, with bad knees or other problems. For them, five flights of narrow stairs is a very big deal. Why is Translink subjecting them to these arduous conditions? Would it really be so hard to install some kind of an elevator? Or even just some signage to warn people?
Inaccessible for Wheelchair Users?
As noted, there have been no elevators at Metrotown Skytrain Station for 21 months. People in wheelchairs have been shuttled from Patterson Station to the shopping complex at Metrotown. On Wednesday I noticed that there were no wheelchairs users anywhere in the Metrotown complex, so I asked a friendly flag person on Central Boulevard where the shuttle station had gone. She pointed me down the road, and I went to take a look.
I found that TWO DAYS AFTER a snowfall, the sidewalk access to the shuttle station had not been shoveled. There was absolutely no sign of shuttles, or of any people in wheelchairs. I realized that even a person with a walker would not have been able to cross the sludge and ice get to the pickup point. I was afraid to walk on it, and I am able bodied. I have since heard that there is another HANDYDart station somewhere closer to the shopping center, but I am still looking for it.
Surely wheelchair users should be accommodated?
What is Translink Thinking? The Station Upgrade that Never Ends … It Just Goes On and On …
This “upgrade” began in spring 2014. At the time, Translink said it would be finished by summer 2016 (a season which is now just a pleasant memory).
Now, Translink is saying that the current inconvenience will continue until spring 2018. SPRING 2018! OK, so (even if they make that deadline) that would be FOUR YEARS. The ENTIRE EXPO Line was built in three years in the 1980s. So now, decades later, why does it take Translink four years just to upgrade one station?
If you are going to inflict major suffering on your customers, at least have the decency to pour all your resources into getting it all done in a few weeks – not FOUR YEARS!
This is NOT First World Transit Infrastructure
I used to use Metrotown Skytrain Station BEFORE the “upgrades.” You know, back when it still had first world conveniences like elevators, escalators, and a covered walkway to quickly get you to your destination. Apart from not allowing bikes, it was a reasonably good station. But thanks to this torturously slow “upgrade” process, Metrotown Skytrain Station is an abomination right now. I have seen better transit facilities and much better organized “upgrades” in the poorest parts of Africa. In Metrotown Skytrain Station on Wednesday, I had to keep reminding myself that I really was in a wealthy, first world country.
I think we have all been fooled by being told that a HandyDART shuttle is available. Not if the access looks like this!
As for the relatively more able bodied – SURELY Translink can do better for the next 18 MONTHS than five narrow flights of mainly steel stairs? How about separate up and down flights so the more able bodied can overtake the less able bodied, and the latter do not have to feel compelled to push themselves as fast as possible? And how about safety non-slip materials on the stairs? I’ve been in Home Depot lately – it would probably cost Translink less than a thousand dollars to make those steel stairs safer.
Why Aren’t We All up in Arms about this Travesty of Transit Infrastructure?
What really amazed me is that I could find no outcry online about Metrotown Skytrain Station. Don’t we as a society care about the disabled any more? Or is it just that ALL transit users are expected to take whatever is dished out?
Doesn’t Translink care about ANY of its customers? Are they not embarrassed that they took away the elevator, promised to have it back within a year, and not only failed to do that two years later, but also then took away the escalators and the skywalk? Is it the case that when you have a monopoly, you just treat your customers any way you like?
Tell Translink what you think about this situation here. If they don’t reply (and in my experience, they probably won’t), ask your local MLA to do something about it. Also, the best way to complain to Translink and actually get a reply – curiously – is to send a real paper letter. Send your letter via Canada Post to:
Kevin Desmond, CEO
South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority
400 – 287 Nelson’s Court
New Westminster, BC
It may also help to cc your local mayor. Yes, it sounds like a lot of work – but go down to Metrotown Skytrain Station sometime for even a few minutes, and watch how many people are suffering – and you will probably feel energized to do it.
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