Disabled still face many transportation barriers

National Council on Disability’s report praises public transit, frowns on alternatives

By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 01, 2015

Amtrak employee Mike Flaherty helps steady wheelchair user Don Beard as he attempts to board an Amtrak train.

Don Beard, left, of Halifax, Pa., is helped from a wheelchair
onto a train by Amtrak employee Mike Flaherty in
Harrisburg in 2009. A recent report said Amtrak
"has lagged behind" various American Disabilities Act
requirements. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

While progress in improving transportation for people with disabilities has been evident in the past decade, persistent barriers remain, the National Council on Disability reported Friday.

“Much has happened in the last decade. More people with disabilities are riding public transit than ever before and yet, in many areas, significant barriers to ground transportation for Americans with disabilities remain pervasive,” said chairman Jeff Rosen in a statement.

The report will be formally released at an event here Monday as the national council — which advises the president, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy — meets in Oakland, part of a series of events marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While the report praises the gains in public transit, it singled out the nascent alternative taxi industry for failing to do enough to accommodate disabled people.

“Taxi alternatives like Uber, SideCar, Lyft and others could open up exciting business opportunities and provide much-needed travel options for passengers with disabilities,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, authors of the report.

However, court cases and news reports “show potential customers being routinely discriminated against because of service dogs and wheelchairs,” she said.

A synopsis of the report says: “Emerging transportation models like Uber, SideCar and Lyft have vigorously resisted regulations typically imposed on the taxicab sector, harming the taxi industry and evading requirements that serve the public interest, including deficits in service to people with disabilities. Uber openly claims it is not covered by the ADA.”

The report also took Amtrak to task, saying the passenger railroad “has lagged behind in meeting ADA requirements for its stations, platforms, train cars, reservations practices and communications access.”

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said the company “aims to accommodate anyone in the community who needs a ride, and many disabled individuals, who were previously underserved by existing transportation options, now actively use and rely on Lyft as a reliable, safe and affordable way to get around.”

Attempts to obtain comment from Uber and Amtrak were unsuccessful.

Other findings as detailed in the synopsis are that ridership on traditional fixed-route buses and rails by disabled people has grown far faster than use of specialized paratransit services like Allegheny County's ACCESS system. It said “great gains” have been made in best practices for paratransit in on-time performance, telephone wait times, no-show policies and eligibility standards “but they are often not implemented.”

ACCESS has seen a decline in ridership since it peaked at 2.2 million annual rides in the 1980s. The service provided 1.6 million rides to 24,400 people last year.

Executive director Karen Hoesch said this week that the shrinking ridership is evidence that more disabled people are using regular bus and rail service because of accessibility improvements and because they have become healthier and have more disposable income. All Port Authority buses have been accessible to people who use wheelchairs since 2003.

The council report said minimal transit service in rural and remote areas “still creates serious barriers to employment, accessible health care and full participation in society.”

After Monday’s formal release, a panel will discuss the findings at the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh. The event, at 9:30 a.m., will feature Robert DeLucia, founder and CEO of Star Transportation Group; Toby Fauver, deputy secretary for multimodal transportation for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; and Jeff Iseman, program analyst, Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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