MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- Passengers who use wheelchairs and other forms of assistance describe the Long Island Rail Road as a game of "traveler's roulette."
Multiple Eyewitness News viewers reached out to 7 On Your Side Investigates complaining that LIRR employees repeatedly fail to help them bridge the gap when boarding or exiting trains.
The American with Disabilities Act requires the railroad to provide reasonable accommodations to people experiencing a disability.
The MTA says all employees are trained to help passengers on and off the train, but passengers complain that help is often nowhere to be found.
"It's hard, it's very hard," said Gina Belmonte, who began using a wheelchair due to complications with an autoimmune disease. "Seven out of 10 times, they forget. It's bad."
This year, the MTA agreed to pay Belmonte a settlement to cover repairs to her scooter, which she said was damaged during a day trip to New York City.
Belmonte said the damages occurred when LIRR employees failed to provide her assistance off the train between Ronkonkoma and Penn Station, and she tried to exit herself.
"It really broke up my scooter," Belmonte said, adding that she was also seriously bruised as a result of the experience. "The doors kept closing on me."
Gary Perro, another Long Island resident, complained of similar experiences on the LIRR.
"I don't ever remember a trip we took where we looked back and said, 'Wow, they really came through,'" Perro said.
Perro reached out to Eyewitness News after his most recent experience in June riding home from a concert in New York City.
"We were like alone and actively stuck," Perro said, adding that his nurse had to use her body to keep the doors from closing. "It's scary. She is trying to hold the door open, and I'm sitting here and there's no one in sight. It's scary."
Eyewitness News rode the train over multiple days to observe first-hand passenger experiences. We never witnessed a passenger miss a stop, but help often seemed unreliable.
MTA employees told Eyewitness News they were not aware a passenger requiring assistance would be riding the train, despite that passenger using the call ahead number provided by LIRR. Other times, passengers waiting for help seemed to go unnoticed by nearby employees. And when help did arrive, it was during a last call or thanks to assistance from other riders.
LIRR President Phillip Eng called the experiences passengers described to Eyewitness News unacceptable.
"It shouldn't be stressful to ride the LIRR," Eng said. "We will make sure that the riders feel they're not left to their own, that we are focused on treating them the way they should be treated, giving them the service they deserve."
Eng said he is working to improve the conditions for riders in need of assistance by increasing direct communication with riders, providing a more visible place at train stops to obtain assistance and evaluating the effectiveness of LIRR's call ahead program.
"I hope to roll something out in the next few weeks, if not sooner with regards to improving it," Eng said.
Riders like Belmonte and Perro said they're hopeful the LIRR will follow through and make the train more accessible for all.
"I'm not asking them for a red carpet," Perro said.
"I just want change," echoed Belmonte.
An LIRR spokesperson provided this additional information for riders who may need assistance:
All rail cars are built to meet or exceed the ADA regulations in place at the time of purchase. Ramps are stored on board the trains near the ADA seating areas, which are available on one out of every two train cars. All train crew members are trained to assist customers in need of ramps. As they are not for self-use, LIRR staff must help the passenger with use of the ramp and are available to do so for each trip.
Customers who need assistance with ramps can use the LIRR's Call-Ahead service, by calling the LIRR's Customer Service Center at this phone number -- 718-558-8228 -- between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to schedule assistance in advance. To ensure adequate time for assistance, we suggest that customers call this phone number at least three hours before their LIRR train's departure time and provide the specific date of travel and specific departure time of the LIRR train he/she will be taking. Our Customer Service representatives will contact the necessary departments to let them know which train the customer is taking, so the train crew can be alerted to be prepared to place a ramp across the gap between the train and the platform at your their boarding station.
Once on board the train, the customer should remind the conductor whether they will need assistance or a bridge plate (ramp) to cross the gap at their destination.
As for elevators and other ADA accessibility:
At Penn Station, there is one elevator on each of the 5 platforms used by the LIRR. The LIRR's platform elevators in Penn Station are located at approximately the middle of each platform and can be accessed from the "Central Corridor" portion of the LIRR concourse. The following link shows a rough map of Penn Station's LIRR concourse level, including the location of the elevators:
Here is another link customers may find may find helpful. It is the LIRR's elevator/escalator status page, which shows whether any elevators or escalators are out of service. We suggest that customers check this web page on the day they plan to travel, for the most up-to-date information.
The following link has a list of accessible LIRR stations:
DO YOU NEED A STORY INVESTIGATED?
Jim Hoffer, Danielle Leigh and the 7 On Your Side Investigates team at Eyewitness News want to hear from you! Call our confidential tip line 1-877-TIP-NEWS (847-6397) or fill out the form BELOW.
You can also contact Jim and Danielle directly:
Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideJim@abc.com
Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideDanielle@abc.com
If using the app, click here to send us a news tip
7 On Your Side: Passengers say LIRR failing to help those with disabilities
7 ON YOUR SIDE INVESTIGATION