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Van service for people with disabilities frustrated with lane setup at new Mukilteo ferry terminal

"WI Drive" says ADA access to restrooms during ferry wait times has been challenging

MUKILTEO, Wash. — Summertime often means longer-than-usual wait times to board the ferry in western Washington.

The process has been frustrating for the operator of a ride service for people with disabilities in Whidbey Island.

Heather Mayhugh operates "WI Drive" out of Whidbey Island, shuttling senior citizens and people on wheelchairs to the Mukilteo ferry terminal.

"I get them to much needed appointments anywhere from Bellingham all the way down to Tukwila," Mayhugh said.

Mayhugh said the challenges come from how the holding lanes at the new terminal lack the spacing required for her wheelchair platform to extend out of the van for her clients to get out and use a restroom at the terminal facilities.

"If you can imagine sitting and waiting in line yourself and you have to walk all the way up there, these people can't," Mayhugh said.

The difficulties became apparent in recent months when Mayhugh said wait times can extend longer than an hour.

"This one person had to go ahead and urinate themselves because there was no way for me to unload them. That is what started this whole thing for me," Mayhugh said.

Mayhugh started her ride service a year and a half ago, partially from her own experience being temporarily disabled from an accident.

"I was injured in 2003; hurt really bad, fell off a roof, so I couldn't walk for about a year," Mayhugh said.

Mayhugh also pointed to challenges in getting priority boarding access due to a lack of coordination with securing passes for that access.

"We can't find the right person to fill out the paperwork, the hospital or the dentist office that we're going to," Mayhugh said.

The improved terminal opened in December 2020, featuring better accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists and public access to the Mukilteo waterfront.

The Mukilteo terminal was also built to ADA standards and has a 12-foot wide ADA lane with a direct route to the restrooms, according to Washington State Ferries public information officer Diane Rhodes.

"Ferry customers requesting ADA access to the restroom -- either in the holding lanes or on the vessel -- can communicate that need to the ticket seller, who will direct them to the appropriate lane near the restroom and load them onto the ferry to be near the elevator. We strive to do this whenever possible. The key is to communicate with the ticket seller and arrive early because travel on this route is very busy in the summer months," Rhodes said in a statement.

Rhodes added that WSF wants to work with the ADA community and will reach out to Mayhugh to discuss the issues.

Mayhugh, however, said the designated ADA lane for restroom access is not always compatible.

"Why don't they let me on with priority boarding like they do with transit people so while I'm over in that lane? I can unload and take people up to the bathroom," she said.