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Rider says Metro is unsafe for service dogs

Ryan Honick, of Alexandria, with his service dog Pico. (Photo: WTOP/Ari Ashe)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A wheelchair-bound man is complaining that the faregates on Metro are unsafe, including those compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ryan Honick says he and his service dog, Pico depend on each other, but often his trips on Metrorail pose too many challenges. Boarding and exiting trains are not a problem because he always uses the first railcar nearest to the train operator. But he says exiting through the ADA gates are a problem, and that Metro needs to examine the issue.

“The Metro gates, including the ADA gates, are prone to closing prematurely. The ADA gates are not safe. It has proven to clip or nearly clip Pico on several occasions already,” says Honick.

He is worried that if he is forced to continue to use the gates, then Pico will become afraid of them and refuse to leave the station.

Instead, Honick says he makes it a habit to ask the station managers if he can exit through the emergency gate. Some of them comply with his request because Metro does not charge MetroAccess customers to use Metrorail or Metrobus, but others refuse his request.

The latest incident happened Monday evening at the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station. Honick spent the day at a Gold’s Gym, which he uses because the general manager allows Pico to run around in the yoga studio when it’s not being used. Like humans, service dogs need regular exercise to remain fit and healthy.

Honick returned home on Metro and asked to use the emergency gate. The station manager refused. He asked to speak with her boss.

“I waited 30 minutes for [the boss] to show up. He said he would make an exception this time, but if I had further grievances, then I would have to take it up with Metro directly,” says Honick.

Metro says the station manager was just following policy, but that it is aware of the incident and will review the matter.

“Without prejudging the outcome of our review, I can say that the ADA gates are designed specifically to accommodate passengers with disabilities, including those who use service animals, and thousands of riders use the gates every day without any issue. A customer can request a reasonable accommodation under ADA, and that request will be reviewed by our Access Services Department. Emergency gates are for that stated purpose — i.e. for emergencies — and not intended for routine entry and exit to the system,” according to a statement from Metro Spokesman Dan Stessel.

Honick does not agree with this characterization and insists that a problem does exist.

“Am I less likely to want to use Metro because of these incidents? Yes. Do I as someone who cannot drive have an alternative with the life that I want to lead? The answer is no,” says Honick.

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