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TriMet says denial of tricycle as mobility device is supported by federal regulations

Posted by on January 7th, 2019 at 2:48 pm

This three-wheeled handcycle isn’t allowed on MAX trains.

Last month we shared the story of activists who spoke out at a TriMet board meeting about their desire to take adult tricycles on light rail cars.

Current TriMet policy allows only two-wheeled bicycles on MAX. Portlander Serenity Ebert, one of the people who testified at the TriMet meeting, uses a trike as a mobility device and she’s pushing the agency to change its policy so that she and others can have the same access as other bicycle users.

Ebert has requested a formal exception based on her condition, but TriMet denied it on the grounds that she can use a walker instead of the trike in order to access MAX. As follow-up to our previous story, I asked TriMet if they would have allowed Ebert’s tricycle if she was unable to use her walker. Here’s the response from agency PIO Tim Becker:

“Any specific request would be need to be fully investigated on its own merit. That said, I can tell you that if Ms. Ebert was not able to use her walker, her request to use the tricycle as a mobility device would still be denied right now because that violates current policy. The Federal Transportation [sic] Administration currently uses tricycles (and bicycles) as a specific example of a ‘device not primarily designed to assist individuals with mobility impairments’.


Becker then pointed me to the US Department of Transportation official guidance on the ADA and the definition of a wheelchair. “The definition does not include devices not intended for indoor use (e.g., golf carts or all-terrain vehicles),” reads the guidance, “or devices not primarily designed to assist individuals with mobility impairments (e.g., bicycles or tricycles).”

Asked how the community might persuade TriMet to change their stance on the issue, Becker said the agency is always reviewing plans and policies and remains open to feedback through avenues like their recently adopted Bike Plan. In general however, TriMet isn’t likely to budget on the tricycle issue. Even when plans come up for review, Becker said, “Historically, these reviews haven’t resulted in changes to allow larger devices largely due to space constraints, and the need for others to be able to safely move about the MAX train.”

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

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  • jake January 7, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    Well, that’s a disappointing response. I’d hope TriMet strives a little higher than, “the feds say we don’t have to do anything.” I’d argue that responding to the community and attempting to accommodate multiple use cases is a better goal. In my view they have been below average on this front in the past, unfortunately.

    Concerns about space could easily be solved by putting dimensional restrictions on how large the tricycles can be.

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    • dan January 7, 2019 at 3:37 pm

      Yeah, that trike is no larger than the mobility scooters that are currently allowed on MAX.

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    • Johnny Bye Carter January 9, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      I have an adult folding trike that’s not very large when in use. I’m sure it’s no larger that an electric mobility scooter. You could try to argue that you should be able to use a trike that’s as large as a mobility scooter. Trikes seem like they are designed for those with balance mobility issues.

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  • mh January 7, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I wonder how long it takes her to get from home to her MAX stop and then from MAX to her destination on the trike, and how long with a walker. If it’s any great distance, the difference could be huge. If too great a distance, what’s possible with the trike might not be possible with a walker.

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  • Bjorn January 7, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    I await the new policy eliminating strollers from the MAX and Bus to allow people to safely move about the cabin.

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  • Al M January 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Pass the buck to the FED’s. Pathetic. What’s the big goddamn deal! I can’t believe these people!

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  • Liz Jackson January 7, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    How is it not illegal to consider Chris Billman’s motorized recumbent a federally recognized mobility device (“In fact they’re not just bicycles, they’re his personal mobility devices as defined by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act” )

    This applies to Serenity as well:

    “Your decision to force me into making a choice of what vehicle I would like the protection of the DMV/ADA decal on is uncalled for,” Billman replied. He felt the rules were biased in favor of people who drive automobiles. “The choice of having only one mobility device with an ADA decal is not forced on anyone else but the disabled whom don’t want to use a vehicle with registration fees attached to it,” Billman continued in a follow-up email.

    So WHAT gives? Something doesn’t smell right.

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    • Liz Jackson January 7, 2019 at 5:22 pm

      Clarification: How is not illegal to consider Chris Billman’s motorized recumbent a federally recognized mobility device, but not Serenity’s non-e-Assist powered trike?

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    • Paul January 7, 2019 at 6:05 pm

      For that matter why can’t a regular bicycle be considered a mobility device? I injured my ankle a couple months ago and for the first couple of weeks I could not walk more than a couple blocks, BUT I was still able to bike just fine because for whatever reason biking didn’t stress my ankle the same way. Seems like anything that helps you get around should count.

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  • Orig_jf January 7, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    If she is truly disabled, then the tricycles is a mobility device as defined by ADA. Just saying.

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    • Orig_jf January 7, 2019 at 6:29 pm

      Direct quote from ADA FAQ about mobility devices

      For example, if golf cars are generally prohibited in a park, the park may be required to allow a golf car when it is being used because of a person’s mobility disability, unless there is a legitimate safety reason that it cannot be accommodated.

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      • Mike Quigley January 8, 2019 at 6:21 am

        Uh-oh. I can hear it now. Golf cart users will be demanding access to buses. The can of worms has been opened.

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    • Serenity Ebert January 9, 2019 at 12:42 am

      It seems to me that Trimet isn’t nearly as familiar with that document as they should be.

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  • Skid January 7, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    A handcycle IS designed for mobility impairments. It is designed for people who do not have use of their legs. That is the primary consideration of its design.

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  • Chris I January 8, 2019 at 7:17 am

    She can use it on MAX. No one is going to hassle her for it. Ignore the bureaucrats.

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    • Serenity Ebert January 9, 2019 at 12:55 am

      Ha! Most wouldn’t stop me. Some would. They might take it upon themselves to tell me that “those aren’t usually allowed,” or they could refuse to let me board. Those ones *usually* back off when I say it’s my mobility device. A few operators say it doesn’t matter if it’s a mobility device it’s still not allowed, which iI’m pretty sure totally illegal.

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  • Glenn F January 8, 2019 at 9:33 am

    I agree with Chris I, nobodies going to hassle anyone in this situation.
    Policy is there just to guide people without common sense/decision making skills. And Unfortunately, the Trimet bureaucrats are always lacking in common sense/decision making skills & and problem solving skills are non-existent…
    It’s Sad that Trimet would not just say ‘go for it’ or setup a meeting to see how it could make it better for there customers.

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    • Serenity Ebert January 9, 2019 at 12:58 am

      You’re lying to yourself, Glenn. These are bureaucrats, they’d hassle anyone.

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      • soren January 18, 2019 at 8:40 am

        trimet leadership has also repeatedly demonstrated biased against marginalized groups.

        democratize trimet!

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    • Skid January 9, 2019 at 4:12 pm

      People DO get hassled for this, someone I know with a handcycle has had MAX operators refuse to open the doors for them and leave the station when they were alone on the platform.

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      • Serenity Ebert January 9, 2019 at 4:23 pm

        I know someone that happened to. If it’s the same person I’m thinking of, I believe it happened multiple times…. and at least once it was at night, while it was raining.

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    • Serenity January 17, 2019 at 11:41 pm

      Glenn F, so you & Chris I would come bail me out if I was unlucky enough to get arrested after taking my trike on the max?

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  • B. Carfree January 8, 2019 at 9:35 am

    I know it was just a typo, but this got me thinking: “In general however, TriMet isn’t likely to budget on the tricycle issue.”

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful for TriMet to fund mobility devices for these sort of needs? I’m thinking of a trike that easily and quickly folds or breaks down to fit well inside transit. These won’t be cheap and most people with mobility issues aren’t exactly rolling in money, thus the need for some sort of public funding, at least at the beginning as the designers/builders get it figured out.

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  • DJ January 8, 2019 at 10:40 am

    Riddle me this: if the lady in question is disabled to the degree that she requires a tricycle to be mobile then tell me how will she be able to enter the MAX, get off the tricycle, stand herself and the tricycle up, and continue to do so throughout the trip.

    Seems to me that the issue goes beyond what we’re reading here. There’s no easy solution. We can feel sorry for this lovely lady all we want, but there’s thousands and thousands of other people that ride the max every day that we also have to consider.

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    • Skid January 8, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Are you really doubting their disability?

      Does a person in a wheelchair have to disembark from their wheelchair onto a seat and fold up their wheelchair? No. So why would they have to disembark from their handcycle if it were considered a mobility device by Tri-Met?

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    • B. Carfree January 8, 2019 at 1:28 pm

      I have a dear friend who suffers from a mysterious vestibular ailment. If you looked at her, you’d think she was fine. Meanwhile, the world is spinning before her eyes whether they are open or shut. This once robust woman, who would think nothing of picking up a 200 pound sheep and carrying it half a mile back home, can no longer walk more than a quarter-block. However, while she walks that quarter-block she looks rather normal, if a bit ungainly.

      I have intermittently suffered from a knee ailment that allows me to cycle for hundreds of miles at a shot, but precluded walking even half a mile without extreme pain. If you saw me walk you would assume I had no health issues, but for any moderate distance the bike was an essential mobility device. I never considered my ailment to be disabling, but for someone with a different lifestyle it could easily have been.

      Never doubt someone’s disability. It’s rude and you are more likely to be mistaken, ime.

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    • Serenity Ebert January 9, 2019 at 1:07 am

      Oh. My. God. Really, DJ? Really? And why do you assume I’d get off the trike once I”m on the max? You know what they say about people who assume…

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    • Johnny Bye Carter January 9, 2019 at 5:36 pm

      I’m unsure how you got so many upvotes asking a question about something that nobody does.

      No disabled person gets off their mobility device (wheelchair, electric scooter) and hangs it up while they sit down in one of the MAX seats.

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  • TomCat Bikes January 8, 2019 at 10:51 am

    This reminds me when I was living in the Bay area. I would routinely exit at the 19th St BART during rush hour, when bikes were not allowed in that particular station (which was a ghost town and a bike could not ever be considered a nuisance). About once a week I was hassled by a station agent who told me bikes were not allowed. I would usually say “Great, I was just leaving”! One day she called the police to have me escorted out. No ticket, just an escort.
    This was after I saw a couple of golfers bring their golf bag caddies on the train to go to the Hayward club twice a week for months. They presumably were never hassled when they got on and off during rush hour at my favorite station.

    So I looked up the regulations for bikes on BART. It specified bikes as a two wheeled conveyance were allowed except during certain times. That was good news.

    The next day I rode an adult trike! I took it on the BART and exited at the 19th st station. I made sure to walk in front of the station agent box. I waved. She waved back! I did this for months. No issue at all. I switched off with a unicycle from time to time. I once dragged a quadracycle on; while it was difficult to get it in and out the train and up the escalator, I was waved along like no big deal. After a few months of this experiment, I rode my bike. I was harassed by the BART station agent as usual.

    Rules are silly sometimes. Even sillier are the people who enforce them without context, to the letter of the rule/law.

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    • B. Carfree January 8, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      I’m cracking up. I love that story and your pluck. Well done, sir. Well done.

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    • Nox January 9, 2019 at 7:40 am

      People follow them without context because their job depends on it, if they don’t, they can face disciplinary action if someone gets injured. It’s all liability and pretty much how the American legal system sets everyone up for failure until things are litigated. If you want TriMet to allow these, the law would have to be specific enough to force them to accommodate and relieve them of liability if someone say, trips because the wheels are wide enough to block the isle or someone runs over someone else’s foot. I get it, it’s easy to bash public workers because “muh tax monies”, but the real blame should be placed on TriMet admin, not the frontline workers who are trying to protect their jobs.

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