5 ways transit riders can make transit more accessible
People with disabilities often face barriers to accessing public transit. And while much of the burden of removing those barriers falls on public agencies, other patrons can help make transit more accessible too.
Discussions about making the fixed-route more accessible to people with disabilities and older adults often center on items in the transit provider's sphere of control (i.e., vehicle and station design, stop announcements, assistance provided by bus operators, etc.). Barriers beyond the transit provider's sphere of control, such as obstacles encountered by pedestrians in the public right-of-way, also need to be addressed. Rarely, however, do we discuss what the transit customer can do.
Here are five things transit customers can do to make the fixed-route more accessible.
Recognize that customers with disabilities have the right to use transit
It is fairly common knowledge that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) addresses the right of people with disabilities to use public transportation, specifically under Title II. Nevertheless, I have witnessed impatient and sometimes intolerant behavior toward people with disabilities and older adults on transit.
For example, the other day I overheard a conversation on the Metro in which a woman was complaining about a man in a wheelchair who was on the train and was in her and "everyone else's way." Of course, the rider who used a wheelchair had the same right to be on the train as she did. And if he was in fact in the way, surely she could have asked him to move a bit or exited using another door.
I have occasionally experienced riders demonstrating a similar level of impatience on the bus, particularly when older adults or people with disabilities take longer to board or disembark than average. Of course, this impatient behavior does not occur every day or on every bus. However, these negative experiences can compound and make using the fixed-route considerably more stressful for people with disabilities and older adults, which contributes to making the service seem less accessible.
I am reminded of a former colleague of mine who once said: "I love public transportation. I just can't stand the people." Needless to say, "the people" are part of the deal with public transportation. And this includes people with disabilities and older adults. When we treat people with disabilities and older adults on the bus and train with the same basic level of respect we expect from others, we contribute to the accessibility of transit.
Vacate priority seating and securement locations when they are needed
Every train and bus has a priority seating area. Every bus also has mobility device securement locations. Many times on both the train and the bus, I have witnessed a person who obviously needed a seat boarding while people who did not appear to need priority seating failed to vacate priority seating.
On the bus, the bus operator is required under the ADA to ask the passenger(s) to vacate the priority seating or securement location when it is needed for a person with a disability or older adult. But, the bus operator is not required to force anyone to move. Some people have hidden disabilities that might necessitate the use of priority seating.
On the train, we do not have a train operator in every car to observe each person boarding and disembarking or to monitor priority seating. On the train, it is truly up to us as passengers to do the right thing and to offer our seat when our seat is needed.
I have asked people to vacate the priority seating locations on the train for an older adult, a person with a cane, etc. Since I usually get on the train when all seats are taken, I typically have no seat to offer. So I say something as simple as: "Hey. Can someone offer a seat to this lady/this gentleman?" Someone steps up, but only after being asked.
Of course, some people with disabilities ask for a seat themselves. They may be accustomed to asking for a seat, but they really should not need to ask. I have also observed that many older adults and some people with disabilities are hesitant or, perhaps, even unable to ask.
We all need to be more attentive, step up, and offer our seats when they are needed by people with disabilities or older adults. A number of years ago, CTA in Chicago had an ad campaign: Stand Up for People with Disabilities. Perhaps we should have a similar campaign here in DC.
Recognize customers with disabilities' right to travel with a service animal
Some customers with disabilities travel with service animals. This is also a right protected under the ADA. Service animals are not pets; they are animals trained to perform specific tasks. The most common service animal is a dog, but there are other types of service animals.
Many transit customers do not know how to behave around service animals. I have seen people on the train attempting to pet, talk to, and/or make direct eye contact with service dogs.
We should always assume that the service animal is working. It is never acceptable to touch, talk to, or to feed a service animal without the owner's permission. In fact, doing so could distract the service animal from the task at hand or even undo some of the training the service animal has received.
Intentionally distracting a service animal can actually be dangerous to its owner. So, in addition to recognizing the right of people with disabilities to travel with service animals, it is equally important to behave appropriately around them. Of course, people with disabilities who travel with service animals have the responsibility to keep their service animals under control.
Work collaboratively to address barriers in our communities
For transit to be truly accessible, the path of travel to and from the transit stop or station must be accessible. Many (if not everyone) in this blog's readership appreciate the importance of good planning and good, safe pedestrian connectivity to transit. But, are we engaging people with disabilities in our discussions?
I believe we need to do more to engage people with disabilities in both our discussions and planning processes if we want to make the pedestrian circulation network accessible to all transit customers, including customers with disabilities.
Of course, not all transit riders are formally engaged in transportation planning or advocacy efforts related to transportation. However, many people are involved in some way in their communities, whether it be through a Home Owners' Association (HOA), Community Association, Parent Teacher Association, etc. Each of these groups from time to time weighs in regarding specific unsafe street crossings, motor vehicles speeding through neighborhoods or in school zones, incomplete sidewalks or sidewalks in need of repair, nearby zoning/land use decisions, etc. And every community has residents who are older adults or people with disabilities who can and should be reached out to and included in these important community discussions.
Work collaboratively to promote transit
I enjoy working with transit advocates from many different backgrounds and perspectives. Some come from a planning perspective embracing new urbanism. Others come from an environmental perspective embracing strategies that reduce carbon emissions. Others are motivated by the goal of transportation equity. And others are concerned with a specific group that relies on transit for mobility (i.e., people with disabilities, older adults, people with low incomes).
Transit is an accessible and affordable transportation option. When proponents of new urbanism, environmentalism, or transportation equity promote adequately funding transit, increasing pedestrian access to transit, and/or making our communities more walkable, they simultaneously promote an accessible and affordable transportation option.
There are opportunities to work together across our interest areas to promote transit, but we often fail to recognize and seize these opportunities. We need to talk more with each other, learn more about one another's perspectives, and advocate together when we find common interests. I can say from experience that the dialogue will be awkward at first, but definitely worthwhile.
Note: Some ideas in this post are addressed in Easter Seals Project ACTION's Getting There Together: Supporting Accessible Sustainable Transportation in Your Community.
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