Buses, trams, trains and subways – not what they seem

I have always enjoyed the luxury of private transportation.  Tooling around in my own car has satisfied many moments of wanderlust.

I never invested much thought into public transportation. It was always a nice thought in the back of my mind. I thought of public transportation as my safety net should I ever become incapable of operating my own vehicle due to financial or physical circumstance.

As my travel experience expanded into regions (like New York City and Amsterdam) where public transportation was required for my day-to-day exploration, I realized very quickly that public transportation is not designed for patrons with physical limitations.

When people push for public transportation a benefit often listed is the convenience and freedom it offers to those physically unable to get to destinations on their own. Unfortunately, with what I have witnessed in New York City and Amsterdam, this benefit is unfounded (by my standards anyway).

The public transportation I participated in in New York City and Amsterdam were very well run processes. I used a combination of buses, trains, trams and subways. Not only were these vessels immaculate but they were easy to identify from the street, the destinations were easy to understand and each trip was reasonably priced.

My first impression while participating in this transportation was that of efficiency and money well spent. Unfortunately after a few minutes of observing others, I realized that public transportation is is no way designed for members of the public with physical limitations. What I witnessed was something built ONLY for humans who never require assistance at any time for any reason. Time and again I witnessed:

  • elderly people stumble into seats as the public transportation jerked into action without warning
  • young people not feeling well that had to stand due to lack of available seating
  • people of all ages with crutches or a cast on an arm trying to frantically reach a seat or poll to hold onto before the tram lurched forward
  • turnstiles to access transportation platforms were narrow
  • bus and tram stops at street level were often in horrifying and narrow areas where one misstep would land an unfortunate soul in the path of speeding cars or dare-devil cyclists
  • thinly veiled impatience on the face and demeanor of every participant with fully-functional bodies
  • horrified mothers gasp as doors tried to close on strollers while irritated observers grab the stroller and assist getting it into the train
  • seats too close together for easy maneuvering of wheelchairs, luggage, strollers, people of different heights and widths
  • hoards of lunatics rushing onto and off of the public transportation
  • seats designated for the visually impaired remained empty, a clear indication to me that this group found attempts far to horrifying to ever attempt again

If I had my way I would change the priorities of public transportation in the minds of participants and designers. I would like to see the top priority go to those who truly need public transportation due to physical limitations so they may get from point A to point B safely.  Unfortunately this change in priority would require the majority of the population to step back, take a deep breath and exercise compassion and patience.  I am not sure our planet is ready for something like this yet so in the meantime I will try my best to keep compassion and patience at the top of my own list.  I know one day I will need it from others;)

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