Accompanied by wheelchairs and walking sticks, MBTA riders on Monday listened to a presentation on the transit system's court-mandated accessibility improvements and provided feedback on areas that still need improvement.
Former Superior Court Judge Patrick King, who has been appointed independent monitor of the settlement, lauded the "outstanding" work providing working elevators at stations — with construction of Park Street elevators expected later this month — and said that bus operators had improved their rate of properly securing wheelchairs and scooters from 8 percent in 2004 to 95 percent this year.
As public comments made clear, there is not yet complete access to the system.
"I do understand we're not perfect. Things happen. There is improvement to be made, and we will continue to work on that," said Acting MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis at the meeting on Monday afternoon. Davis said the MBTA has a "commitment to see that the system is 100 percent accessible by 2020."
According to the riders who spoke at the meeting, the needed improvements include both equipment, such as buses that are completely accessible, and MBTA employees who always follow the right protocols.
On July 22, 2002, a group of people sued the MBTA, alleging discrimination because they were not granted equal access to buses and trains, according to federal court documents. In 2006, the MBTA and the group of riders agreed on a settlement and King was assigned to oversee the plan.
"I don't want to be left out in the snow anymore," said Joanne Daniels-Finegold, who uses a wheelchair and said that when she is picked up bus operators sometimes leave her outside while making the arrangements inside the bus to accommodate her. A Braintree resident, she said she shovels out her own bus stop and said more bus stops - not just the busiest ones - should be cleared of snow by the MBTA. Some of the people in the room were named parties to the lawsuit, including Daniels-Finegold.
With plans to shut down Government Center station for a period of about two years and a cost of about $90 million, the MBTA will bring elevator access to the station serving the neighborhood around Boston City Hall, King said. More work is needed on developing external bus speakers, which announce the route number, that can withstand the region's frigid winters, King said.
Other stations, including Boylston and stations along Commonwealth Avenue, are not required to become handicap accessible in the settlement agreement, King said. He said space considerations prevent the stations along Commonwealth Avenue from becoming fully accessible.
Bus drivers have a device in their buses where they can press a button to alert management that someone has parked, blocking a bus stop and in the first 10 months of the year, drivers have issued 37,000 alerts, with the most parking violation alerts at a stop on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown, according to King.
King also saw the possibility of a technological and legal leap in how tickets are issued to people who block bus stops.
"Perhaps at some point the next logical step is to provide the T with authority to issue tickets without actually going to the bus stop," King said.
Don Summerfield, a Cambridge resident who uses a cane, said that MBTA operators had recently refused his request for them to ask passengers to move from the priority seating on a train and a bus.
"The operator said, 'I can't.' Well I said, 'You can,'" Summerfield said.
A guide to MBTA accessibility says operators are required to ask riders to move out of priority seating, but may not demand the customer move because "that person could very well have a hidden disability."
Summerfield told the News Service that customer service on the MBTA has vastly improved over the past decade, saying 10 years ago buses would speed past him as he waited at bus stops.
"I would stand at that bus stop for an hour," Summerfield said.
John Marshall, a Boston resident who uses a wheelchair, said he doubted the MBTA's statistics on bus drivers' compliance with the protocols for safely securing a wheeled device, and said in his experience most drivers do not properly secure wheelchairs.
"That creates a safety problem. It certainly helps to destroy very expensive wheelchairs and scooters," Marshall said.