Accessible, affordable land transportation for persons with disabilities? It sounds like science fiction. Although noticeable efforts have been made in the private and public sectors concerning the issues, riders with disabilities still face obstacles getting from Point A to Point B.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has forced public buses to install folding ramps and lifts so individuals in wheelchairs can ride. For those who don’t live close to a bus stop, many major cities provide Paratransit service where a wheelchair accessible bus transports customers from their homes to desired destinations and vice versa for $2.50.
Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Not quite. For example, if you need to go to the grocery store for a few things in Greater Cleveland, you’re dreaming if you think Paratransit can take you there in a day, two, or even five days. To increase your chances of landing a trip to a non-medical destination, you need to schedule seven days in advance. You can also boost your ride potential if the desired place is within a five-mile radius of your home or if standard bus service occurs at the time and in the area that your ride is taken. Even then, Paratransit can’t guarantee rides until the day prior to the trip.
If you are lucky enough to get a Paratransit ride, you still must abide to limiting policies. Even though buses have ample room and big strong drivers, passengers cannot bring more than four bags. As you can imagine, stocking up for winter may endanger riding privileges. Many drivers also show a lack of compassion by refusing to help passengers in wheelchairs ascend and descend steps because they’d get trouble with the office.
Yeah, right, passengers endlessly complain if drivers go beyond the call of duty. Funny, drivers are not scared of being reprimanded if they talk on cell phones or stop at stores to pick up a few items with passengers waiting on board. Yet, drivers don’t dare come aboard with more than four bags.
You can always go with a private transportation company that can take you anywhere and probably won’t complain about the number of bags you bring on board. Of course, you would have to be a wealthy person with a disability, which is like seeing the Browns winning the Super Bowl.
Specialized transportation companies in Cleveland, for instance, charge from $50 to $90 a roundtrip plus $1.00 to $2.50 per mile. Nevertheless, medical trips are generally free if you have appropriate insurance. So, when you go to the doctor’s, check if a shopping center or some other fun place is nearby. That way you can enjoy yourself after seeing the doctor without paying for the ride!
The ADA also has compelled taxi companies to offer services to persons in collapsible wheelchairs. Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angles, along with two Virginia counties, have accessible taxi service.
Los Angles has 127 accessible cabs, Boston has 42, and Fort Lauderdale has 21.
Chicago passed an ordinance requiring that one in every 15 taxis must be equipped with a ramp or a lift. Surprisingly, these cities didn’t dig deep holes in their budgets with their investments in accessibility. When purchased in discounted volumes, accessible minivans are only $1,000 to $2,000 more than Ford sedans, which are standard taxi vehicles.
New York cabbies are catching up. Thanks to its Taxis for All campaign, the Big Apple has twenty-seven accessible cabs. Considering the city’s size, additional accessible livery vehicles are needed, however. To make matters worse, 32% of NYC livery drivers refuse to service passengers with wheelchairs.
Nonetheless, New York does have a regulation that prevents cab drivers from charging extra for transporting customers who use wheelchairs. Taxi services in Greater Cleveland are not that benevolent. When they see customers in wheelchairs, their pupils become dollar signs. Maple Heights Taxi in Greater Cleveland, for example, charges wheelchair users $12 for a one-mile ride! Accessible taxis in other big cities such as Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Seattle are also a rarity.
Granted, daily transportation services for persons with disabilities have improved greatly since the birth of the ADA twenty years ago. Public bus lines are now accessible and more private transportation services continue to appear. Even some taxi companies have boarded the accessibility bandwagon. To keep building on these milestones, we must continue to educate transportation leaders in the private and public sectors that persons with disabilities will not sit still.