Martin Place accessibility / mass transit communications

So, just to be an equal-opportunity accessibility complainer, I’m posting a short exchange of emails I had recently with CityRail, who run the (sub)urban rail services in the Sydney area.  My first email pretty well explains it all.  This isn’t quite as annoying as my recent interactions with Bloor-Yonge station in Toronto, but annoying nonetheless:

(Email sent May 23rd, 2011)

Hello,

I’m writing to ask a question / ask for improvements regarding station access in the CBD at night.  I live in Woolloomooloo and often take the train in the late evening (after 9PM), and am becoming very frustrated with the stations nearest to me.  Whenever I am traveling to / from the West or the Airport (which is most of the trips I make on CityRail), I usually go via Martin Place Station or, as an occasional alternative, St James.  These stations are the ones closest to my home as I live directly across The Domain from Martin Place.

The problem I’ve had with this is that a number of the accesses to these stations close long before the end of service.  At St James, the Macquarie Street accesses close mid-evening, and at Martin Place Station the Macquarie Street accesses close later in the evening (around 10, I believe, though I’m not certain).  In addition, almost as if to taunt me, the escalators leading to the Macquarie Street exit at Martin Place Station remain in operation until the last train – leading people up to locked doors, where there is no choice but to turn around and go back down the same escalators to exit at Elizabeth Street.

Most frustrating, however, is that Martin Place Station recently acquired a lift from the station concourse to Martin Place between Phillip Street and Macquarie Street.  This lift works – I know it works; I’ve taken it during the day when going to or from the airport with luggage.  Yet whenever I am going to or from the station at night, the lift is switched into “Out of Service” mode.  Fortunately, I am able-bodied and capable of (begrudgingly) carrying my luggage up the stairs to Elizabeth Street and then walking a few extra blocks.  I can’t imagine how a person in a wheelchair would access this station at night, and question why the lift was even installed in the first place if it was not intended for use during all of the station’s hours.

Given that I live East of both of these stations, these access closures make taking CityRail in the evenings much less convenient than it already is.  So my question is: why? Why are these entrances to these stations closed at night?  I’ve tried, but cannot imagine any scenario where this is in anyone’s interest.  These accesses are the closest ones to most of Woolloomooloo and part of Darlinghurst, and for those leaving the Opera House and heading East, it’s faster to walk to the Macquarie Street access of Martin Place than to backtrack to Town Hall Station from Circular Quay Station.  I would really appreciate if you could explain the logic behind this. And if there is not a good reason – can I kindly request that the Eastern accesses to these stations (as well as the Martin Place lift) be left open until the end of service?

Thank you in advance,

Neal

I got a response on June 1st:

Dear Mr Jennings,

Thank you for your email regarding CityRail services. I apologise for the delay in responding.

I am sorry to learn of your disappointment with the operating hours of the access points of Martin Place and St James station, and also apologise for any inconvenience caused.

It is our policy to close station access points which are unattended for customer safety and security reasons, as a result the Macquarie Street access point at Martin Place Station remains closed from 10pm while the closing time for St James Station is 8pm. During this time the escalator near Macquarie Street at Martin Place will not be in operation.

With regard to lifts, RailCorp has more than 270 lifts across the network. We record the performance of all lifts and this enables us to focus our attention where it is most needed. The availability of lifts and escalators for the financial year 2009/10 was 98.5 per cent, exceeding the industry standard of 96 per cent and our target of 98 per cent.

We service lifts regularly with major servicing every six months. Should a lift break down, technicians are contracted to make repairs as quickly as possible. You may be interested to know that other than periods of essential maintenance the lift at Martin Place is available for use at all times.

Thank you again for taking the time to provide us with your feedback

Yours sincerely,

Bahar
Customer Relations Officer
RailCorp

There are multiple outright lies in this email, including the claim that the escalators are turned off, and the elevator left on, during the later evening hours.  I responded the next day:

Thank you for your response Bahar,

Can you explain to me how forcing customers to walk further through empty CBD streets increases our safety? I would think that walking through Hyde Park after dark would be less safe than walking through the station entrance, as would walking through Martin Place which at night is generally occupied by people sleeping on its benches.  Also, from my experience, the escalator near Macquarie Street at Martin place IS in operation after 10PM – all three of them are usually running after this time, and I’ve seen them in operation as late as midnight.  In fact, I’ve never seen these escalators not in operation.
The lift at Martin Place is NOT available for use at all times.  As I clearly stated in my previous email, the “Out of Service” light beside the lift button is lit whenever I go to/from the station in the late evening hours – this is a regular occurrence.
Perhaps whomever is responsible for the station is receiving instructions to turn off the elevator and leave the escalators on, instead of vice-versa?
Neal

Having waited over a month to hear back, and hearing nothing, I figure I’ve given sufficient time for any response. I don’t expect any response they would give would be any more useful anyway.  Accessibility fails when all the features intended to make a station accessible are literally turned off during station opening hours.

I think the bigger issue here is communications.  Finding an email address to contact CityRail in the first place was virtually impossible – I eventually had to use  contact form which took some digging to find.  NSW Transport is on Twitter (that link is to one of many accounts – as with any public transport things in NSW, there are a zillion locations for transport info), but only feeds updates; the same is true of its contact number (131 500).  Communications from CityRail / Sydney Buses / etc are all one-way, outgoing messages.  Hear what we have to say, we don’t care what you say.

I think a lot of transit authorities could learn quite a bit from Translink in Vancouver: they have a Twitter account (and phone numbers, for the Twitter-challenged) that not only provides information, but also responds to requests and listens to feedback.  Toronto’s TTC comes close to this by having a Notices account (which has recently started responding to people) and a communications account (i.e., @BradTTC).  For public transport to be accepted and adopted by riders, the transport authorities need to listen to users.  It takes a team of people to do this, and it’s not free, but it’s also not overly expensive.  Those of us who use transit daily, weekly, or even monthly all bring insight that someone on the ‘inside’ might not get from reading ridership statistics – even if it’s pointing out something that’s being done wrong, or a broken feature that everyone complains about but never bothers to report.  Rather than defending absurd policies or behaviour, honest responses and honest communication go a long way to building the trust of the ridership and, in turn, long-term public transport riders who use transit because we choose to, not because we have to.

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