For riders in wheelchairs, newer light rail trains can be a challenge

For some riders, the newest batch of train cars on Metro Transit’s Blue Line light rail route between Minneapolis and Bloomington might be an upgrade.

But for passengers with disabilities using wheelchairs or scooters, the second generation rolling stock represents a marked step backward from the line’s original cars, a House committee heard Tuesday.

Designated wheelchair areas disappeared, replaced by fold-down seats often occupied by other riders. The current design meets Americans with Disabilities Act standards, said Margot Imdieke Cross, an accessibility specialist with the Minnesota State Council on Disability. The changes, though, have made for a more challenging mass transit experience, she said.

“It really became our responsibility to ask these folks, these people, to move,” Imdieke Cross told lawmakers. “And if we feel uncomfortable doing so, then we sit in the aisle,” or block the train’s entrance and exit doors.

Heard by the House Transportation Policy Committee and re-referred to the transportation finance committee, HF2752, sponsored by Rep. Sandra Masin (DFL-Eagan), aims to correct those issues. The bill would require new design standards for future light rail transit vehicles on the Blue Line and soon-to-open Green Line between Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. It would also specify minimum standards for the new design, including dedicated wheelchair spaces on each car and seating next to the dedicated spaces.

The plans would be subject to review by the Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee.

“Individuals who ride (light rail) should be able to expect to sit reasonably comfortably without blocking entrances and exits, or the aisle,” Imdieke Cross said.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Council – which operates Metro Transit bus and rail routes -- told the committee the organization supports the bill.

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Division last week approved a companion, SF2270, sponsored by Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan). That bill now awaits Senate Finance Committee action.