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Disability rights activists to TriMet: Let us take trikes on MAX

Posted by on December 13th, 2018 at 10:04 am

Serenity Ebert (left), Christine Watts (center), and Dawn Cohoe (right) in front of the TriMet board meeting yesterday. They are part of Civil Unrest Bicycle Club, a disability rights advocacy group.
(Photo courtesy Christine Watts)

TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey and the agency’s Board of Directors heard from two cycling activists during the open public comment period of their meeting yesterday.

“I can’t use public transportation to get to cycling events that I can’t ride to or back from. What do I do? Where is the equity in that?”
— Serenity Ebert

Serenity Ebert rolled up to the microphone on her trike, which she uses as a wheelchair. It’s the same one she pedaled to the stage at the recent Alice Awards dinner where she gave a rousing speech about her experience navigating Portland streets with a physical disability. Christine Watts joined her at the testimony table to ask TriMet to allow tricycles on MAX light rail trains. Both women are members of Civil Unrest Bicycle Club, a grassroots disability advocacy group.

Current TriMet policy does not allow three-wheeled bicycles on MAX. Specifically, the policy states that only, “… two-wheeled bikes, folding bikes, and recumbents the size of a standard bike are allowed… Tandems and bikes with oversized wheels, three or more wheels, trailers or those powered by internal-combustion engines cannot be accommodated. Electric bikes with a sealed battery compartment are permitted.”

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“Not allowing such forms of personal transportation on the MAX train creates a hardship, and puts the disabled more at risk of injury, or being a victim of a crime.”
— Christine Watts

Ebert has submitted an application to TriMet for a special exception to the rule, but she says it has been denied. “I’ve lived downtown for 10 years,” Ebert said in her testimony yesterday. “I depend on public transit to navigate the city.” “I use my walker or my trike as my mobility devices,” Ebert continued. “A while ago I was informed that I can’t take my trike on transit as a mobility device. You could argue that I have equal access because I can use my walker on transit. But is it fair or equitable that I can’t use my other mobility device? The one that allows me to more fully participate?”

Ebert explained to Kelsey and the TriMet Board that she needs to be able to use both devices. The walker is slow and difficult to use on its own, and when she’s only using the trike she can’t, “Simply get off and go run to get my walker.” Ebert says if TriMet won’t let her use her trike as a mobility device, she’s still prevented from using it because a bicycle with three wheels is explicitly prohibited in current policy.

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“Unlike my fellow non-disabled cyclists, I can’t use public transportation to get to cycling events that I can’t ride to or back from. What do I do?” Serenity asked. “Where is the equity in that?”

In her testimony, Watts said TriMet’s exclusion of adult tricycles and adaptive trikes is discrimination against people with disabilities. “Not allowing such forms of personal transportation on the MAX train creates a hardship, and puts the disabled more at risk of injury, or being a victim of a crime. For example when tricycles are vandalized or parts are stolen or the trike itself when parked at bike racks.”

After their testimony, no one from TriMet spoke or asked questions. You can watch this testimony on video here (starts at 5:00 mark).

In an email today, TriMet public information officer Tim Becker said that while Ms. Ebert did file a “Reasonable Modification Request,” it was denied because, “The requested modification would not be necessary to allow her to fully use or participate in TriMet services, programs, or activities.” Becker said they made that decision based on Ebert’s ability to use a walker. “While Ms. Ebert cannot bring the tricycle on board,” Becker wrote, “she is able to access the transit system using her primary mobility device, which is her walker.” TriMet also says they have no plans to classify trikes as mobility devices, but they will address Reasonable Modification requests on a case-by-case basis.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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jake
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jake

I’d really like to see TriMet improve this policy.

It seems like someone on a trike should be able to utilize the space on MAX reserved for seniors/people with disabilities. I’m not sure of the actual dimensions of the space, but this seems like common sense–being able to at least use MAX to get most of the way to a destination followed by a trike ride is probably doable, but having to go across town on a trike is a big ask for many people.

Hope TriMet changes the policy. Keep fighting the good fight Serenity and Christine!

Biker
Guest
Biker

Is this really an equity issue? Getting to recreational activities is not the same as allowing ADA access to trains. This is not an issue of TriMet discriminating or whatever, since this person has a walker she can use on MAX that can actually fit in the ADA section. I have doubts that the large tricycle in the photo can fit without blocking access for others. TriMet also does not allow large cargo bikes for the same reason. This is a matter of space, not equity. It’s disrespectful to other MAX users to bring a large trike on board that blocks the aisles for others, just so that you can have fun at bike parties, when you have a much more reasonably sized means of conveyance that fits much better on the trains. Maybe this person should try a dial-a-ride service that can better accommodate her request.

jake
Subscriber
jake

I think your point about space is a valid one and I’d be curious to know the “typical” size of a trike as well as the size of the ADA space on trains. It may be prohibitive. Personally, my instinct is it could work, but I’m not sure. I’d note however that any of the space arguments could be made against bicycles too, we just happen to allow them (and admittedly, the trains have hooks to help them take up less room).

I do believe it is an equity issue. Mobility is the core issue at play. People with mobility devices have just as much right to get from A to B as any of us, whether it’s recreational or not. And I’d argue that while cycling events were mentioned in the testimony, there’s no reason why someone in this situation couldn’t be using a bike to run errands, etc. They can’t take the trike on a bus, so for any trip over a quarter-mile from a MAX stop, they’re essentially forced to ride.

I realize there’s a limit here–we wouldn’t let someone drive a motorcycle onto the MAX. But I think there’s a “reasonable accommodation” argument that would enhance mobility for a number of people in the region without meaningfully inconveniencing other people.

Biker
Guest
Biker

Yeah, you bring up a good point. If the trike fits in the ADA area, then it should be allowed. I really don’t think TriMet would actually kick someone off the train that had legit mobility issues, so this honestly seems like a non-issue to me. I think this person went the wrong route in trying to get an exception from TriMet – she likely could have just flown under the radar if she just brought the trike on board anyway.

David Griffiths
Guest
David Griffiths

Speaking from experience, I’ve never been kicked off of a train once I got on with my handcycle, but I’ve had operators shut the doors in my face, and not allow me to board. And believe me, it’s far from being national news. Quite frankly, it’s not even local news. Too many non-disabled people just don’t see this as a social justice issue.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Salfy
There’s already the ADA area where both sets of seats fold up. Surely there’s already enough room there.Recommended 0

Yes. And you obviously weren’t paying much attention if you think everything I do on my trike is recreational.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

I guess you should count me in the “not paying attention” category too, because I got the exact same impression from your quotes. The use case you mentioned, saying it wasn’t equitable, was that you couldn’t take your trike on the MAX to get to cycling events. I’d assume you have other use cases that aren’t recreational, but they didn’t make it into the article – maybe you should withhold your snark toward someone who appears to have read it just fine, and instead ask to include your other use cases in the article above?

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

That is ONE example. Would you use a mobility device for only recreational purposes?

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Yes. It is.

Seager
Guest
Seager

Actually, it is the same. People with disabilities have equal rights to use public accomdations to access all of life’s activities, even recreational ones. If it’s available to the able-bodied public, it also needs to be equally available to people with disabilities, for whatever reason.

Greff
Guest
Greff

Don’t really understand why this is an issue. Just call it a mobility device and park it in the ADA section on the MAX.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Given the optics of the situation, I can’t imagine a fare enforcer coming down on someone doing this. It would be national news if someone got it on camera.

JP
Guest
JP

I was unaware of this policy and of the existence of Civil Unrest Bicycle Club. I’m glad to see these advocates speaking out against a policy that appears to be badly in need of change.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

I was also unaware of this policy that trikes aren’t allowed even when they are your mobility device until a certain streetcar operator told me. I think it was *maybe* about a year & a half ago… (not completely sure) Most don’t care. I have no idea how long this been policy. Civil Unrest was just formed this year

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Oops, again. After checking again, I see that it was actually in March of 2017, not May.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

I found my first Facebook entry about that particular streetcar incident when I found out that it didn’t . It was May of 2017. This was back when they had a different form that your doctor had to had to fill out. This driver acted like he was doing me a favor by taking me home.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I have to admit that while I think such a large object is going to be difficult to fit in the space by the door of the max without making it difficult for others to get on and off they do seem to allow strollers of an almost unlimited size so perhaps allowing these as well would be a more consistent policy. I see no way to accommodate trikes on the bus though.

David Griffiths
Guest
David Griffiths

No, trikes will not fit on the bus, but in general, we’re able to use our cycles for distances we would otherwise travel by bus. We really only need access to the Max, for pretty much the same reasons as any other Max-riding cyclist.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Seems reasonable, I mean you could take a max trip of almost 30 miles and it doesn’t seem right to tell someone with a disability that they should just ride their trike that far. David do you know if the makers of trikes that are designed to be used as this kind of mobility device are trying to reduce the footprint to make it easier to bring them into spaces like this?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

This is one of the thorny issues that would be solved on Max by having an old fashioned conductor on board. I realize that not having one seems to be a huge cost savings that can make the system more affordable for everyone. The problem with the current system is that the only official person on most trains is the driver, who has their hands full trying to avoid hitting crazy motorists or people darting across the tracks at stations. They are in no position to make nuanced decision regarding a riders disability status, nor to easily enforce them. I ride the max every day and see so many situations that would be avoided and defused with a permanent person in the passenger compartment of each train who could enforce the rules, make sure fares are paid, and keep off troublemakers. The random security and max police that are used for this purpose are spread to thin to accomplish much, and only arrive on the scene when tensions are heightened. I am in favor of disabled folks bringing on trikes but like many things there must be the ability to use discretion and control to avoid problems.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

That would be a huge waste of money. Mandatory conductor requirements are one of the main reasons that commuter rail systems are so expensive. Light rail works all over the world without attendants onboard.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

This treatment seems to fit with the zeitgeist of the times, doesn’t it. The next time I vote for more money or bond issues for TriMet will be when this issue and bicycle crossing safety issues are committed to heartily and sincerely.

Eggs Ackley
Guest
Eggs Ackley

Yours could be the only vote in favor. Imagine the screaming and gnashing of teeth if TriMet asked for more money to redesign their buses to accommodate trikes. Americans want everything but don’t want to pay for it.

Skid
Guest
Skid

Electric powered mobility scooters and wheelchairs are allowed, and dimensionally they can be as large as a tricycle. It seems to me that Tri-Met is having an issue with semantics: this is a tricycle, and this is a mobility device. When operated by a differently-abled person a trike or or even a bicycle becomes a mobility device.

Can’t help but wonder if this is the reason why David Griffiths has opted for a wheelchair, tired of being bullied by “authorities” that saw their handcycle as a tricycle and not as a mobility device.

David Griffiths
Guest
David Griffiths

To be clear, my handcycle is still my preferred mode of transportation, and until I moved away from Portland, I continued to take it on the Max. I’ve had plenty of operators shut the doors on me, and not allow me to board, but I never gave up.
Now that I live elsewhere, when I come to visit I usually bring my chair instead of my cycle, but only because it’s easier on whoever gives me a ride to Portland.

Champs
Guest
Champs

From a justice perspective, this is garbage. The system doesn’t work for everybody and I know we’re all shocked to hear that civil engineers weren’t inclusive enough.

Looking through the lens of law, saying no is unfortunately the most defensible position TriMet can take. Everyone recognizes that this is not the slippery slope to emotional support peacocks, but exposure to risk from people who can’t use or get hurt attempting unsupported uses is a nasty can of worms.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Emotional support peacocks–you, sir or ma’am, have absolutely made my day!

Salfy
Guest
Salfy

Isn’t this site always going on about for e-bikes are great for people with mobility issues? Why not just add a battery to your trike and forgo MAX entirely?

Q
Guest
Q

What does “this site” have anything to do with that? Do you know that the person in question would want that on their trike at all? Do you have any idea how what it would cost to correctly refit a trike with an e assist system that would provide a comparable range to a max train? This is about getting mobility devices onto mass transit and facing a bureaucracy that doesn’t seem equipped to address the users of that mass transit system.

Kyle rampart
Guest
Kyle rampart

What is all this “equity” garbage? Equity is not guaranteed, equality is, and thats what she has. Its not trimets responsibility to make sure her vehicle of CHOICE can fit. If im going to horse race, can i demand trimet make an exception for horses? Appropriate accomodations are already in place for her to use her walker. If she doesnt want to use it, she can uber.

David Griffiths
Guest
David Griffiths

One big reason that leaps immediately to mind is the fact that most disabled people live well below the poverty line. We simply can’t afford to “just add a battery”.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Not to mention that mobility devices often don’t benefit from economies of scale the same way a bike would making them more expensive. My dad has an artificial leg, it cost close to a hundred thousand dollars. Luckily he did not have to pay all that out of pocket but disabled people have extra expenses on top of typically having lower income levels.

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

Its an ADA violation no? Just remove some seats on each train. There’s more room anyway if people stand.

Salfy
Guest
Salfy

There’s already the ADA area where both sets of seats fold up. Surely there’s already enough room there.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Oops. That first reply was meant for Biker, not for you. I hit the wrong thing, sorry.

David Griffiths
Guest
David Griffiths

No. The most infuriating aspect of this whole situation is that TriMet is technically in full compliance with the requirements of the ADA. This just highlights how deeply flawed the ADA really is.

Froppd
Guest
Froppd

What is TriMet supposed to say? Everyone is too busy accusing them of being racist to listen to any reasonable explanation.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Biker
Yeah, you bring up a good point. If the trike fits in the ADA area, then it should be allowed. I really don’t think TriMet would actually kick someone off the train that had legit mobility issues, so this honestly seems like a non-issue to me. I think this person went the wrong route in trying to get an exception from TriMet – she likely could have just flown under the radar if she just brought the trike on board anyway.Recommended 0

They have before.

Robert Alan Ping
Guest
Robert Alan Ping

If we want cities to create truly multi-modal systems for people, then we need rail systems like Trimet to have at least one dedicated car on each train that can accommodate larger bicycles and other mobility devices: long-tails, trailers, wheelchairs, scooters, recumbents, etc., plus overflow numbers of bicycles. This should be standard practice at least during rush hours, and during non-rush hours have one car with an identified open section in it that can accommodate oversized vehicles and extra bikes.

Beth H
Guest
Beth H

You and I may want that. Pretty sure the people who run the show would prefer that the disabled who take up too much space just stay home and shut up. Which is why there’s a real need for groups like Civil Unrest Cycle Club. Because positive change to make the world more fair is never, EVER handed out on a plate.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Chris I
Given the optics of the situation, I can’t imagine a fare enforcer coming down on someone doing this. It would be national news if someone got it on camera.Recommended 0

Are you volunteering to follow me around with a video camera?

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Anyone familar with exactly how trimet manages to carve such a narrow exception here? Clearly they allow large strollers (I have seen people bring ones for twins on that were probably close to the same size as that trike) and they would allow a wheelchair or a motorized scooter. Is it just that it is pedal powered, like if that trike had 2 front wheels instead of one and an electric motor would it just be a powered wheelchair and that would be fine?

KYouell
Guest

Years ago I would often take my kids on the MAX in our double stroller. It would park nicely in the ADA space and I always moved if someone with a physical disability boarded (though my position was and is that that stroller was my son’s mobility device – he has Down syndrome and low language skills combined with an adventurous spirit which equals bolting off the train). I confirmed before purchasing that our stroller was narrow enough to fit thru any ADA-compliant door. I confirmed when the MAX broke down and everyone was being put on shuttle buses that TriMet’s bus doors are too narrow. The 3 of us and the woman using a wheelchair had to stay at the station and wait for the train to be fixed. That’s why they have LIFT service IMO.

Having been next to Serenity and her trike at the Women Bike event at Holladay Park (last year?) I can tell you her trike is longer than our stroller was, but it sure seemed narrower. Not that it matters! TriMet had issues before we moved into town and started using a cargo bike to get the kids around, and it sounds like they’ve only gotten worse.

I wish that meeting hasn’t been during school drop-off. I guess next time I need to just bring my son with me and attend the meeting!

Al M
Guest
Al M

Excellent coverage. Where’s mainstream media? Nowhere as usual

soren
Guest
soren

Terrific organizing by Serenity and Christine! Trimet must be held accountable for its undemocratic and dismissive treatment of *all* people who use public transportation!

Kent
Guest
Kent

Seems like the sensible solution would be to come up with some kind of placard to affix on the trike (and other similar vehicles) that identifies it as a disability mobility device like the disabled license plates and rear view mirror hangers that people use to park in disabled parking spaces. If space on the train is really a physical safety issue then Trimet could have an engineer figure out maximum dimensions for these vehicles and if they pass, issue them the placard. Hand them out the same way they hand out disabled parking passes.

I don’t know the politics of this in terms of whether the rider would want to be so-identified as disabled. But with a placard on the trike at least the public would know and hopefully be more understanding of the situation if there is some inconvenience to other passengers.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

In theory that was the idea behind Trimet’s “alternate wheeled mobility device application,.” which was the predecessor of the Reasonable Modification request form. You would have to get your doctor to fill it out (it HAD to be a medical doctor) and send it in. You would get an appointment for Trimet staff to measure your device, and I hear they’d give you a sticker if you were approved. I did that but was denied, and never saw this “sticker” that magically made you safe.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

And I guess whatever measurements they came up with- correct or not, were official.

Kent
Guest
Kent

Well, I tend to be something of a trouble maker. But if it were me, I’d make up some kind of big blue disabled placard similar to a license plate and attach that to the back of the trike. Mainly so that other passengers and drivers know you aren’t just flaunting the rules but have a reason to be taking the trike on the train. Then go about your business and dare them to throw you off and have you arrested. The optics would be horrific if they actually did so.

ESPECIALLY since the reason they gave to deny your permit the first time around were not based on safety or ‘measurements’ or anthing to do with the trike itself. They were simply questioning your need. If their denial was based on a determination that the trike was unsafe to park on the train or didn’t fit or blocked emergency egress or some such then you’d be on shakier ground. But it appears from the story that they made no such determination. They simply questioned your need to use the device.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

I did. They don’t even bother looking at it.

Hall
Guest
Hall

I’m really disappointed at TriMet’s refusal to acknowledge the equity issue here. As an able-bodied person, I rely on MAX + bike for a large portion of my transportation, and the biking part of that equation is important. It’s not fair that Serenity is denied that option, and is forced to walk the non-transit parts of trips, especially if walking is slower for her than it is for others, or is less safe. I feel like TriMet’s position is resting on the ableist idea that disabled people only deserve the bare minimum, and that seeking access to a full life (with recreation even!) is asking too much.

Liz Jackson
Guest

Why should Serenity (my friend) be obligated to call me (which I 110% love doing because I get to see my friend, but hate that she does not have the same transit options that I have) to pick her up and take her to the Harvest Century? Or to the bike shop when her Trike need servicing? How is she supposed to manage her time and energy when doing anything outside of her comfortable traveling radius requires that she:

A) Ride her trike beyond her comfort/distance level or
B) Call a friend with a truck to transport her trike.

It is about FREEDOM from relying on others and the EQUITY OF ACCESS to the same places as regular-sized-bikes on bus commuters, without being required to over exert herself or forced to give up the independence that other bike/bus commuters enjoy of deciding when to take their trips.

Serenity is a champion and I can only hope to one day be as authentically badass as she is. She is my hero!