Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Travel annoyances

A few weeks ago, I went on a trip for the weekend. I took the train, as I have done often for short trips. I went with a friend, she was the one who bought the tickets. Now, this friend was planning to buy the tickets from the station near her, which was the next stop from where I planned to get on. When she bought the tickets, she told the ticket agent that her friend was in a wheelchair and requested the wheelchair tie-down spot in first class. This way you can stay in your wheelchair and still pay coach fare. If a person in a wheelchair needs an escort, they travel with you for free. However, I don't need an escort so I assumed we would each get our tickets for normal coach fare. But the agent didn't ask my friend if I needed her to travel, he just I guess assumed I did and didn't charge her for her fare. So naturally, my friend and I split the cost of what she paid, which was one coach fare.

The train ride down was no problem at all, and we had a very nice weekend. However, coming back was a bit more dramatic.

When you're a wheelchair traveller by train, the conducter needs to know where you're getting off so he can call ahead to that station and request the wheelchair lift to get you off the train. Usually when you buy your ticket, this information is transmitted before the trip by the ticket agent. When my friend bought the ticket at her station, the ticket agent put her station on both the tickets as the departure station. My friend explained to him that I'd be getting on the station before. He told her it would be no problem for me to get on at my station even though my ticket said her station.

So on our return trip, the conductor comes around to take our tickets. Now, when you have a person traveling with a wheelchair user, they sit in the seat across from you, which can be turned around since normally it is facing the opposite direction from you. I asked the conductor if he could turn the seat around so my friend could face me. He did. However, a few minutes later another employee came by and told us some other passenger had reserved the seat next to my friend and the seat couldn't be turned around because it was facing the "wrong" way and we had to ask the person traveling if they minded. She immediately made us turn the seat back around. The thing was though, that this other passenger wasn't getting on for another 2 1/2 hours! I started fuming out loud saying that was ridiculous and that I was going to write a letter about it. The first guy who had turned it around for me initially heard me and said they'd turn it around for now and ask the person who was to sit there if she minded facing the wrong direction. The person got on finally and when we asked her, she said not at all. So there was this big hoopla for nothing. But it was handled very, very poorly.

Finally, I got to my destination and stood in the taxi line to get a cab home. Now, in my city they have recently expanded the taxi service with 50 or so wheelchair accessible cabs. This can sometimes be a blessing and a curse. See, I can get out of my chair quite easily. I have a manual, folding wheelchair which can go in the trunk. Many of the regular drives don't want to bother taking a wheelchair now and expect that you have to take the accessible taxis, but you usually have to wait a bit longer for them. So in a way it kinda hinders your freedom a bit instead of expands it.

So it's finally my turn in line and the next cab is not close enough to the curb for me to be able to get in. It is a regular cab. The taxi stand guy asks the cab driver to pull up to the ramped part of the sidewalk. He does so. The minute he gets out of the car though, he asks if my chair folds. I tell him it does, and open the back seat door. He says he's not sure it will fit in his trunk as his trunk is very small. I tell him my chair fits in most car trunks and it shouldn't be a problem. Besides, there are parts I can take off to make it smaller, but I rarely need to do that. He starts muttering under his breath and puts the chair roughly in the trunk, which he does very quickly and easily. It fit fine. When he gets in the car and starts to drive off, he tells me that there are accessible taxis meant for me and that I shouldn't be taking a regular cab. I tell him I am aware of those taxis, but they are not always readily available and you have to wait a bit longer for them. I tell him I can get out of my chair and am entitled to take any cab at a cab stand or hail one on the street and they are required to take me. He is not happy about this at all. He says "well, I can charge you an extra $5 for the trouble then." I get very angry at this point and tell him that under no uncertain terms can he do that and that he must charge me the same price as everyone else. He starts swearing and said "I guess this is my lucky day then". He is visibly angry all the way home.

When we get to my place, I pay him the exact fare with no tip, obviously. He gets my chair out of the trunk and practically throws it on the pavement. He gets back in the cab immediately and does not help me out or hold the chair for me. I don't need his help, but it's the principle of it. I get in my apartment and immediately call to report him. It is midnight and I only get an answering machine, but I'm too incensed to wait until morning. A couple days later an officer calls me back and tells me they'll look into the matter. I have not called back again to find out what happened. I should do that today. The experience shook me. It's not the first time that a taxi driver has not wanted to take me or made a fuss about it. And it's not the first time I've made a complaint. Each time it gets you at your core being. It affects your ability to see yourself as able and equal to the rest of the world around you. And it makes you nervous about hailing a cab the next time.

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