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Laura Brelsford - MBTA and System Wide Accessibility WTS-Boston Luncheon – October 2018

Frank Monkiewicz Photography

By Lindsey Vazquez, EIT (Jacobs)

On October 25th, WTS-Boston hosted Laura Brelsford, the Assistant General Manager for MBTA’s System-Wide Accessibility (SWA), at the Chapter’s monthly luncheon seminar. Laura has been at the forefront of the MBTA’s mission to become the nationwide model of an accessible public transportation system.

Laura began her presentation describing the progress she and her colleagues have made with the MBTA by first summarizing the state of station accessibility, operations, and programs prior to her appointment as Assistant General Manager. Just over ten years ago, there was a twenty-percent chance that a person with disabilities would not be able to board the local bus because of a lack of proper maintenance, equipment, and/or training of the operator. Elevators and lifts would be out of order for weeks at a time due to an outdated and underperforming monitoring system.  

Since then, the MBTA has made significant strides toward providing a transit system that is a nationwide model for accessibility.  This progress began with the creation of the system-wide accessibility group reporting directly to the General Manager.  This crucial structural change allowed the MBTA to transition from a reactive operational agency to a preventative and proactive agency for accessible facilities. Out of service elevators and lifts that previously took weeks to repair, are now maintained on a regular basis to prevent breakdowns. Just two years after implementing the proactive policy change, elevators were recorded as being 99.5% operational. This enormous success boosted morale for MBTA employees and has translated toward their work in accessible bus operations.  The MBTA purchased a new fleet of all low-floor buses, updated bus maintenance procedures to a proactive approach, and began 8-hour training sessions for bus operators. After the first round of feedback from both the Monitoring Program and the regular riders, it was evident that these small changes were making a large difference. Again, the MBTA saw considerable improvements and success. The percentage of riders not able to board due to maintenance and operation issues decreased from 20% in 2005 to 0.1% today. Laura was most excited to announce that the percentage of bus operators failing to properly apply disability securements decreased from 91% to 6%.

Today, the MBTA reaches out to Laura and her colleagues for advice on improvements to accessible design on a regular basis, giving Laura and her team a seat at the decision-making table. Since the SWA’s inception, the group has grown from one person to a group of twelve people.  Laura was excited to announce a joint effort to produce a Design Guide for Access, expected within the next year, that will detail new design guidelines and processes for approving accessible designs within the MBTA. 

It was exciting to hear about the incredible growth and successes that the MBTA has achieved in creating and transforming accessible transportation infrastructure. Thank you, Laura, for speaking with WTS-Boston. 


Photos by Frank Monkiewicz Photography, for more photos from the event please check out WTS-Boston's Flickr page here.



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