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The Ups and Downs of Accessible Transportation

Wheelchair accessible transportation

In the past, there had been issues with providing basic accessible transportation throughout the United States. Today, transit facilities, intermodal centers, rail stations, and platforms are increasingly becoming accessible especially here in Chicago. However, even with this impressive collection of services, there are still underlying issues. These challenges are not exclusive to the US – they happen around the world and serve as further proof that full accessibility takes constant effort to achieve.

So, what exactly are the ups and downs of accessible transportation? Let us find out in today’s blog.

1. Taxicabs

Taking a cab is one of the simplest ways to get around while using a wheelchair. When taking a cab, there is no need to look at a map and figure out which route you need to take to get from point A to point B. Simply hail a cab and get in.

Given that taxis are the most preferred way for wheelchair users to get around the area, it also bears multiple risks and challenges. The first and most crucial one is driver training/preparedness. Not all taxicab drivers went through proper training to handle passengers with accessibility challenges. While most of them may mean well, they may not be familiar with certain disabilities, which can result in safety issues.

Secondly, not all taxis are wheelchair-friendly. In fact, you’d be surprised to know how often wheelchair users get stranded in their location just because of the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs. There are constant efforts to change this, but the costs of accessible taxicabs are often high. Hence, as long as the budget is tight, the situation will likely stay the same for a very long time.

On the bright side, however, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has made several successful attempts to compensate for the para-transit challenges. Title III of the ADA requires that all taxi services:

  • Cannot refuse to serve a person with a disability who can use taxi vehicles
  • Cannot charge higher fares or fees for carrying people with disabilities and their equipment than are charged to other people
  • Must provide help stowing mobility devices (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.)

2. Priority Seating

There is a constant debate around this issue, particularly about whether baby strollers have priority over wheelchair users in those spots. Advocates say the primary problem with accessible public transportation is that those with baby strollers usually refuse to give way for wheelchair users. Moreover, they also argue that wheelchairs have priority over strollers in those spaces.

However, when this issue was brought up, it was ruled that neither strollers nor wheelchairs had priority over the other. This means that there would be no rule to enforce.

Thus, the situation adds fuel to the idea that attitudes shape the experience of disability more than physical ability. This is an ongoing battle in our society and clear evidence of how accessibility features need to have cooperation by both its operators and users for them to be useful.

3. Accessible Bus Stops

One of the biggest challenges to implementing a fully accessible system is ensuring that all bus stops are accessible. Even though the buses themselves may have ramps and other accessibility features, not all bus stops are created equal. 

Every sidewalk is different. Some bus stops are concrete and smooth enough for wheelchair users to navigate. On the other hand, some bus stops are rough and too narrow for individuals in wheelchairs to access.

An accessible bus stop needs more than space for a ramp – it also needs space for a wheelchair or person to be able to maneuver at the end of the ramp. This is why two meters of sidewalk space is often recommended. This prevents the situation wherein a wheelchair user finds himself stuck and immobilized simply because of poor planning and construction.

4. Paratransit Services

In the US, there are paratransit services for disabled individuals who are otherwise unable to take public transit without assistance. These services usually have staff specially trained to handle people with accessibility challenges and can pick up and drop off directly at residences.

Still, even as a transportation for people with special needs, this “door to door” service has its drawbacks.

One of the biggest concerns involves scheduling. Because this service has to be as financially sustainable as possible, routes are planned to pick up and service as many people in one trip as possible. This requires trips to be arranged well ahead of time – in many cases, at least 24 hours ahead.

Of course, this is not ideal for individuals who have emergency trips or last-minute travels. Consequently, this places constraints on what the passenger is able to do. For example, if you had to take paratransit to work but was invited to a post-work dinner, you may not be able to attend. Paratransit scheduling does not allow for spontaneous events. In the event that these situations occur, you may have to find an alternative non-para-transit ride home.

Furthermore, paratransit costs more per ride to operate than convention buses or trains. The vehicles may cost a bit more due to their specialized nature and may experience additional maintenance costs as well. It can prevent many public transit agencies from expanding their paratransit programs. Likewise, it is a big reason why the paratransit service and passenger ratio is troublesome.

Are there solutions to these matters?

Thankfully, yes! While having a system that is accessible for all disabilities and conditions is an extreme challenge, we can always try to improve.

Having regulations for sidewalk width can help with bus stop accessibility. Due to the vast scope of this, it would not happen overnight and may require years and even decades for every place to be compliant. Still, we have come a long way and have made significant changes for the disabled community, so anything can happen!

Automotive companies can help find ways of building cheaper accessible vehicles, reducing the massive costs associated with today’s accessible car and van models. This means not only cheaper paratransit vehicles but also cheaper private vehicles. This type of system not only benefits those who are able to drive but could not afford to buy cars, but also the para-transit systems in general.

Cheaper car manufacturing costs can also help a taxicab industry that is intimidated by the costs of accessible vehicles. In addition, having well-trained drivers can improve safety; with more accessible taxicabs, there may be more passengers with accessibility needs, which can give drivers some valuable experience in this field.

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