Elevating Accessibility on Mass Transit

App aims to help those with disabilities traverse accessibility issues during commute

For more than a month, commuters trying to descend onto the Center City transit concourse at 8th and Market Streets by elevator have been met with trouble.

The eastbound elevator, owned by the City of Philadelphia and located on S. 8th Street, has been out of service since January, forcing those unable to walk up or down steps to re-route their path to the Market-Frankford El.

“I’m obviously upset when I see something neglected like that,” said James Tyack.

The software developer said he noticed the elevator was broken two weeks ago. Even more frustrating, he says, was the fact there was no signage letting people know the elevator was not working – only an orange cone in front of the door on the concourse level.

“If you go to the elevator upstairs, you have no way of knowing that it’s not working,” he said. Tyack added that several commuters who said they use elevator told him they have had problems with it every few weeks.

Tyack tweeted photos of the issue to SEPTA and city officials, who did respond to say they were working on the problem.

NBC10.com reached out to SEPTA and the city, which owns this elevator, regarding the issue. SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said the elevator stopped working in January after a number of problems cropped up, including a broken transformer.

Williams said city officials asked the transit authority to step in and repair the elevator for them. She said the transformer issue was resolved last week and that crews would be working to fix some other problems this week.

Andrew Stober, Chief of Staff in the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, said the city regularly asks for SEPTA’s help with maintenance issues because they “serve the same the customers.”

“The lead time for elevator repairs can be significant,” he said. “I understand that the elevator should be working by the end of the week.”

There is another elevator servicing that stop, on the northeast corner of Market Street, which is operational. However, those with disabilities would be required to cross over the platform to the westbound side to use the elevator. At a station that has no working elevator or escalator, the rider might have to take a train to another stop completely to get on and off the system, adding extra distance and inconveniencing them.

“People don’t care [who own it], they just want things to work,” Tyack said.


Hoping to give people who rely escalators and elevators to get in and out of stations a better picture of the accessibility issues they’re facing, Tyack created an app called Unlock Philly.

Available through web browsers on computers and smartphones, the app automatically culls together accessibility information at SEPTA rail stations – including issues like broken elevators – onto an easy-to-read map. That data comes from SEPTA’s website.

Stations are color coded based on the accessibility options they offer – red for stairs only, yellow for escalators and stairs and green for elevators.

Unlock Philly also pulls in information from the urban guide website Yelp! to show users what places, like bars, restaurants and stores, near the station are accessible.

“Part of the reason for developing the app was to bring together all of the places where someone could go,” he said. People can also easily tweet SEPTA about issues they see at stations through the app.

Unlock Philly is currently a prototype, but Tyack said it is up and running for people to use. He and the developers at Code Philly, a local group of tech professionals and enthusiasts, hope to expand the app and offer ways for people to leave comments and tips about stations.

Tyack hopes the app will take off and inspire people to make more apps that help people and don’t just make money.

“To actually improve things for people, that’s the aim of this,” he said.

To try Unlock Philly out for yourself, click here.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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