Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Handicapped seating

Sorry to harp on this point, but I think that it's an interesting opportunity for me to get a look at the T from a new perspective.

On August 23rd I slipped and fell while hiking across a stream in the White Mountains with my son. I landed with my left elbow twisted behind me, and broke it in two places. I've had to keep my arm in a sling ever since, on my doctor's orders.

So I've had a chance to see what it's like to be a semi-handicapped passenger on the commuter rail.

It sucks. Mornings are okay, but over the past month ridership on the Franklin #715 train has increased notably (again). And they have often shorted the train consist; for a while it was five doubles and two flats, but now it's often only one flat. The difference is notable; in early August I was able to get a seat every time I boarded at Ruggles, but for the past three weeks I have almost never been able to get a seat until the Norwood Central stop, nearly half an hour into the ride.

Mind you, there are seats; many of the three-person seats only have two people in them. But they inevitably push towards the opposite ends of the seat, and generally places their bags in the space between. As I walk down the aisles, being careful not to bump my sling against passengers (more because my arm hurts like hell when bumped than because of any great courteousness on my part) many of those passengers in the three-person seats have a classic reaction; they catch sight of me and then quickly look away, out the window or at their suddenly-engrossing reading matter.

As a matter of stupid pride, I never ask them to make room for me. Still, I have to admit that it sticks in my craw; whenever there's an injured person, a parent with children, or a pregnant woman standing I have always been the first to stand up and offer them my seat. But now that I'm injured, only one person has ever offered me a seat. I declined with thanks (I was some distance away, and it was crowded), but it was nice of him to make the offer.

It's a strange issue. I guess it's human nature for passengers to spread out and claim as much space as possible. Should conductors encourage passengers to store their bags in their laps, or in the overhead racks, rather than beside them on the seats? I've heard that announcement once in a while, but it's very rare. Should I speak up and demand a seat? To be honest, I can't jam myself into the middle of a three-person seat; pressure on my arm really does hurt.

As it is, I've been sitting on stairways instead. I can't take a chance on falling down, and it's both painful and difficult to take a secure hold and stand with only one working hand. I have to keep a watch behind me and move at most stops to let people use the stairs, though.

Oh, one more note of interest: fare collection is way down on the Franklin #715 again. I don't recall being asked for my ticket once in the past two weeks.

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