I blogged recently about making the decision to switch from car to wheelchair van, and since vans are out-of-the world expensive, I’ve been checking other alternatives – like public transportation.
Unfortunately, I don’t live anywhere near a bus stop, and even if I did, I’d bet that half the time, according to many stories I’ve heard, either the bus driver won’t stop to pick me up or will claim the ramp is broken.
Our community offers paratransit service (disparagingly called a “concierge service” by one local politician who obviously doesn’t get the need for it). But when, as I’ve heard, a rider is dropped off at 8 a.m. for doctor’s appointment scheduled for two hours later, it’s not exactly a helpful service.
A few wheelchair accessible cab/vans are available for trips around the area, but only when the drivers feel like working and only if you’re willing to pay a rate much higher than other taxis charge. (How can that be legal?)
The very personal challenge of getting from here to there affects everything from our jobs to our medical care, and from our education to our social life. At a local forum on this issue, the room was packed with people frustrated, angry, and ready to do something about the lack of accessible public transportation.
One mother, for instance, couldn’t understand why her son’s expensive wheelchair was badly damaged on his school bus. Another was close to tears describing how she spends most of the day taking her three children with special needs to where they need to be because they can’t rely on public transportation.
A man in the audience said he’ll lose his job in 100 days due to planned cutbacks in paratransit routes. He works for the state, which underfunds the local paratransit system compared to other cities in the state. But some bureaucrat(s) apparently thinks it’s better for this man to become unemployed and go on public assistance than to adequately fund our paratransit routes.
These problems aren’t limited to my community. A 2012 report by the American Association of People with Disabilities found that:
- Many public transit systems– particularly older rail and bus systems, as well as Amtrak–are still inaccessible to people with disabilities.
- Paratransit services required by the ADA are plagued by poor oversight, high costs to transit agencies and, and woefully inadequate service.
- Taxi services continue to be out of reach for people who use wheelchairs, both due to discrimination by drivers and because of physically-inaccessible cabs.
- Significant access problems remain for people living in rural communities.
- 560,000 people with disabilities never leave their homes due to transportation difficulties.
It’s that last one that scares me most. As it gets harder to get my wheelchair in and out of the car, I find myself cancelling plans to meet friends for dinner or deciding not to go to a movie. In other words, my transportation problem isolates me.
And it’s isolating to so many others. For instance, how many of us end up in nursing homes partly because they have no independent means of transport? How many can’t keep a job because they can’t get to the job? How many suffer from depression because they’re stuck inside 24/7?
I’ve had good luck riding BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Metro Rail in Washington, D.C. Seattle has good taxi service. (I’m told, its metro rail service is also easy to use, though I haven’t tried it yet.)
Safe, affordable and accessible public transportation seems like a right to me, and should be found in more than just those three cities. Do you have it in your community?