Cracks, gaps, and more tests: report on Saint John's broken escalators

Cracks, gaps, and more tests: report on Saint John's broken escalators

People wondering about the holdup with fixing Saint John's malfunctioning city-owned escalators may soon have answers.

A set of up-and-down escalators connecting City Hall with Market Square was shut down in January because a crack was discovered in the track. There was also a problem with the step gap, according to a report by city staff to be presented to council Monday night.

While the chains on both escalators were replaced in mid-February, the province is now requiring additional safety testing.

"In order to perform the testing, a specific instrument is required," the report said, adding that the instrument "took some time to obtain" through the city's contractor.  

Fixed in days or weeks

"Testing is currently ongoing and depending on the outcome, the escalators could be back up and running within days or [it] could be weeks, if more repairs and parts are required," according to the report.

The report said the escalators, installed in 1982, have "surpassed their expected useful life."

Recently, a petition asking the City of Saint John and the Hardman Group to fix the escalators gathered more than 200 signatures. Hardman, which manages Market Square, owns and operates a number of other malfunctioning escalators in the uptown, all part of the pedway system.

"This is interfering with the flow of citizens to their homes [and] patrons to local businesses, and is no longer acceptable to those with accessibility issues" the petition reads.

Although there is an elevator nearby, it too has had problems and wasn't built to take over from the escalators. Most people are forced to use the narrow stationary escalators as stairs.

One signatory to the petition, David Nickerson, said having only one elevator to service the area between St. Patrick's Street and City Hall "means the pedway becomes very clogged, very quickly."

"Anyone with a wheelchair, a walker, or any sort of mobility impairment is severely impacted by that," said Nickerson, whose two elderly parents have mobility issues.  

'Forget the escalators'

Donna Reardon, Saint John's Ward 3 city councillor and a longtime uptown resident, said council is also frustrated with the situation.

"We just put a million-dollar escalator in across the street, and now we're looking at another one," said Reardon.

According to the report, the Kone-manufactured escalators installed in the City Market pedway in 2016  have a one-year warranty and an expected useful life of at least 25 years.

The long-term solution, Reardon said, is to "forget the escalators."

"They become a problem over time," Reardon said. "And they're not the healthiest option for people. My recommendation would be to haul them out and replace them with stairs."

Not for everyone

Stairs, however, aren't viable for everyone, either.

"It's the senior population we have to think about," Nickerson said, adding that Saint John has a higher population of seniors than other areas.

"People look at the pedway as a creature comfort, but for people who are mobility-impaired, it's a necessity," said Nickerson.

"There are a lot of infrastructure problems in Saint John. It troubles me to think that we've built things, and we're not maintaining them, and I don't know why that is."