Some wheelchair users worry about design of new BART fare gates

BART Riders at the Richmond station saw the rollout of new fare gate prototypes, which have higher gates to try and prevent fare evaders from jumping the barrier. The gates have a second set of leaves that snap shut with just inches between the two retractable barriers. 

Corbett O'Toole says she's a regular BART rider. She says sometimes the two wings of the old fare gates will get stuck or even slam shut at unpredictable times, hitting her legs as she tries to pass through in time with her wheelchair. 

"It comes down fast and it comes down hard. And so it's a hard hit and sometimes it bruises," said O'Toole.

When O'Toole saw the new prototype fare gates Monday at the Richmond BART station, she said she was scared to go through. 

BART is testing out the double-winged gates as a pilot program.  O'Toole worries that for wheelchair users, children or short riders, those wings could shut right at head level. 

"I'm terrified about getting stuck here. Like I said sometimes it's a 3-second window. If I don't get through in 3 seconds I get hit on the head," said O'Toole.

A BART spokeswoman says the top barriers come down with less force than the bottom and are connected by a pole, so if something below hits it, the upper flaps won't close. 

Still, one BART rider says the new gate's upper wings hit her wheelchair's headrest Monday as she rolled through.

"They came down on my headrest, the upper gates so they actually hit the back of my chair and thank goodness they hit my chair and not me," said Tara Ayres, a BART rider from Richmond.

Bart also said staff reviewed surveillance camera footage and said the upper flaps have not hit riders nor caused injuries. 

Some BART riders say they have been hit by the old gates, but never reported their bruises.

"Sometimes they open, they get stuck. And that one part comes down really quickly. More than the other one. That's what happened. It hit my right leg. Bruised up. So I can only imagine if the top," said Yami Rodriguez, a Richmond BART rider.

"The main problem I do have is the response times for those things. For example if someone is on a wheelchair or bike, it will close early," said Carlos Olmedo, a Richmond resident and BART rider.

In a statement BART spokesman Jim Allison said, "This prototype was designed with a safety engineer...In response to concerns, we have positioned BART staff at the fare gate to show people how it works and to answer questions."

"The engineers, the maintenance crew, they're not all disabled people so they aren't going to have these issues at the forefront," said Chris Mullin, a member of the BART Accessibility Task Force.

Mullin said he'd like BART to solicit more public input. 

"It's a topic of huge concern and our committee will address it. No question. We will address it," said Mullin.

BART said in a statement that staff reviewed surveillance camera footage and said the upper flaps have not hit riders nor caused injuries. 

BART's board is scheduled to meet Thursday June 13 at 9 a.m. The accessibility task force is scheduled to meet on June 27.