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Still no wheelchair access after 17,000 Stanley Park train tickets added

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The Vancouver park board has confirmed this year's Stanley Park holiday train remains inaccessible to children in wheelchairs, despite the additional work that allowed the city to offer 17,000 more tickets to the popular attraction this week.

The news was disappointing for parents like Hilary Thomson, who has a daughter in a wheelchair and was briefly hopeful after learning two more carriages have been repaired in time for the Bright Nights event.

"I thought surely, if they're adding that many tickets they would have been able to find accessible cars," Thomson said.

"It's really disappointing to hear that's not the case."

The update marks the second time this month families like Thomson's have been let down. When officials initially announced the train was reopening – after a series of closures blamed on mechanical issues – many were stunned to learn there would be no accessible carriages.

Only one of four locomotives and three of 13 carriages were initially repaired in time for use this year. Two other carriages have since been added, allowing the city to extend Bright Nights until Jan. 6, but none can accommodate Thomson's daughter or others like her.

"Unfortunately, we won't be able to accommodate wheelchairs at this time due to equipment constraints," the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation wrote in statement Wednesday. "While we placed an order for accessibility equipment along with our other equipment earlier this year, it wasn’t shipped in time to align with the Bright Nights operating schedule."

The board added that staff are "actively working on modifying a carriage to accommodate wheelchairs as soon as possible." It's unclear how long those modifications could take.

Regardless, the 17,000 additional tickets made available this week have already sold out. Similar to the first round of sales, the tickets were scooped up within hours on Thursday.

Thomson said the lack of accessible trains makes her question the city's commitment to accommodating families like hers in general.

"We as a family spend a lot of time trying to contribute to the city's accessibility plan – we've gone to meetings, we've provided our input, and we were really hopeful that plan would make a difference," she said.

"Is the Stanley Park train the most pressing accessibility issue of our time? Probably not. But it's a symbolic one, and if the city isn't going to make the effort there, it makes you wonder if they're going to make the effort in other areas."

Mayor Ken Sim personally announced the return of the train earlier this month, exclaiming, "It's back, baby!"

Gabrielle Peters, a researcher and community organizer who also uses a wheelchair, called on the mayor to apologize for reopening the train in a state that excludes some children from participating, and suggested the city make amends by providing affected families free passes to another attraction, such as VanDusen Gardens.

In response, Sim's office released a statement reiterating that the accessibility equipment was not shipped fast enough, and calling the situation "unfortunate."

"The carriages in their current conditions would not meet the regulatory threshold set by Technical Safety BC. Safety is and must remain our top priority," the mayor's office added.

Even though the train has sold out, and is inaccessible for some children, the city has noted there are still holiday lights and displays in the plaza at Bright Nights.

The event supports the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters' Burn Fund, and is the charity's biggest annual fundraiser. 

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