City of Miami To Spend Thousands Upgrading Trolleys That Don't Serve the Visually Impaired

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City of Miami trolley
via miamigov.com
When the City of Miami unveiled its highly anticipated trolley system two years ago this month, city officials were clearly satisfied with themselves. Mayor Tomás Regalado -- who had championed the idea for years -- grinned as he snipped the ribbon from the sleek orange-and-green machines in Mary Brickell Village. The rubber-tired trolleys were supposed to be a sign that Miami had traded smog and sprawl for smart urban planning. The Huffington Post gushed that Miami was the next San Francisco. The trolley system's motto: "Ditch the car and hitch a ride."

For many visually impaired Miamians, however, the new trolleys turned out to be a harrowing ride to the wrong part of town.

This week, city commissioners are expected to finally order upgrades to the trolleys 24 months after their much-publicized debut. The fixes are part of a legal agreement with Andres Gomez, a 26-year-old who claimed the trolleys violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Gomez was initially excited about the trolley system. When he was 18, the Coral Gables native was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a disease that gradually causes blindness. The trolleys promised an easy and free form of public transportation. But when Gomez got on one, he quickly realized something was missing.

"There were no stop announcements," he says. "I immediately got lost." When Gomez tried asking the trolley drivers for help getting off at his stop, many of them refused or were rude to him, he says.

One time, Gomez tried to catch a trolley to Brickell from the Omni district. After a series of silent stops, another passenger reassured him that he had arrived in Brickell. But it was only after stepping off the trolley that Gomez realized he was in the middle of Overtown. At night.

"That was pretty scary," he remembers. "You know, when you are visually impaired, people see you in a bad neighborhood, they try to mug you. When you're disabled, you're always on guard. You've always got to think the worst."

Gomez escaped unharmed but swore to do something. He called the city's transportation department, which admitted the trolleys were supposed to have speakers and announcements.

"The Metrorail, Metromover, and buses all have stop announcements," he says. "But the trolleys were out of compliance with the ADA. I'm young. If I'm frustrated, someone else who rides these is going to have even more trouble.

"A lot of disabled people don't like to come out of the house because of stuff like this," he says. "They just give up." With the help of disability lawyer Matthew Dietz, Gomez sued the city.

Last month, the city belatedly agreed to add stop announcements at a cost of $8,000 per trolley. Limousines of South Florida, the private company that runs the trolleys, agreed to train its drivers to assist people with disabilities. Commissioners are expected to approve the deal this week.

Now Gomez is the one feeling satisfied. He says the lawsuit isn't about him, but it has left him feeling empowered.

"My girlfriend is proud of me," he says. "She tells me: 'Look, there are a lot of barriers you face, but they don't seem to stop you.' 

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7 comments
grantstern
grantstern

Congratulations to Andres for successfully fighting Miami City Hall and winning.  Hope his achievement inspires more citizens to be active and make this city a better place for all

DrumRollPlease
DrumRollPlease

Do these units have hydraulic kneeler units that lower the buses and a wheelchair lift or ramp to make it easier for passengers to board and disembark? 

Trish Shearer
Trish Shearer

I wondered why there were no announcements of where stops were. I figured since the trolley was free I was getting my money's worth. :/

ckinsobe
ckinsobe

Those trolleys are pretty bare bones, they certainly could use other upgrades apart from this one to make them a bit safer and easier to use. Also the first time I got on one the driver started driving off as I was stepping off it. I was lucky not to fall due to fast reflexes I pulled myself back up onto the steps. Very badly trained driver he also had no clue on how to explain to us where to get off. What is it about Miami bus drivers and their outrageous rudeness and terrible driving???

DrumRollPlease
DrumRollPlease

Good for him.  The buses should have never been used without being ADA compliant. 

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

................my observation of drivers here in broward is they may lose their union negotiated breaks between turn-around trips IF they come IN late,  so they rush the route and drive wrecklessly hurried to get IN despite traffic and other delays

staying on schedule is basically never attainable so drivers continually are risking chances on the route rather than continually lose their deserved breaks

otherwise the trolley drivers here in ft lauderdale are as rude and rushed as anywhere else and therefore never have time for ridership service other than rushing customers on and off the trolley - i once asked a trolley driver where he was going and he simply closed the door in my face and drove off

it's not personal it's just those jobs are given to the least qualified as a cost savings

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

............maybe the vendors of these necessary items do not pay kick-backs or bribes so this oversight is not intentional, only financial

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