Action onlineMagazine of the United Spinal Association Paratransit: Love It or Leave It?
Wednesday, July 25th, 2007 For those who can’t use accessible mass transportation systems, the ADA requires localities to make available paratransit services. How have they been performing since the ADA became law?
By Terry Moakley
Charles Roman (in chair) is mostly satisfied with the paratransit service he has received. Is he typical or unusual?
In June of 2005, in his letter of transmittal to President Bush of his agency’s comprehensive report—The Current State of Transportation for People with Disabilities in the United States— then-National Council on Disability (NCD) chairperson Lex Frieden wrote, “There have been many advances in America’s transportation systems and services for citizens with disabilities, particularly since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 . . . however, research reveals that many barriers to transportation continue to exist that prevent the full inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities in society.” Possibly the biggest barrier to greater transportation use for individuals with disabilities is the inability of many to drive, combined with the fact that public transportation does not go everywhere. A 2002 transportation study estimated that about six million Americans find themselves in this predicament every day. The implementation of the ADA brought with it a new service which operates using various names from one community to the next, but known by transportation agencies as ADA complementary paratransit. An individual with a disability must go through a local eligibility process before being declared able to use ADA paratransit, since it may only be used by persons who cannot use accessible fixed- route services.
One might think that the availability of this new service has put a dent in the transportation woes confronting folks with disabilities. But statistics available from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and included in the above NCD report prove otherwise. In 1991, before the implementation of ADA paratransit service, FTA reported 14 to 16 million paratransit trips annually. Nine years later, a total of 73 million paratransit trips were reported to the FTA, of which some 45 million were determined to be ADA-related. That’s a lot of trips that did not happen before 1990, but it still doesn’t come close to meeting the daily transport needs of six million individuals with disabilities. Action interviewed several New Yorkers who are frequent New York City Access-A-Ride ADA paratransit users. Charles Roman of Queens, New York, was an Access-A-Ride subscription service passenger for 11 years to and from his job in Manhattan, and he continues to use the service to reach United Spinal Association offices where he volunteers, and for many other trip purposes. Charles mentioned just two incidents during his 11 years of Manhattan commuting when he wasn’t picked up as requested.
“One time it was my fault because I wasn’t waiting in the right place,” Charles says, “but the other time the driver went to a completely different location and I was left without a trip home. Fortunately, I managed to find a nearby bus stop, and with a little assistance from other riders, I managed to make it home.” Charles’s more recent experience has been very positive overall. He has even enjoyed problem-free trips transferring from the New York City Access-A-Ride system to the Westchester County Bee Line paratransit service. Chris Neves of Brooklyn, who interned at United Spinal Association in 2005 and 2006 en route to his current college studies, provides a quite different view of his Access-A-Ride experience. “When I was coming to United Spinal once a week,” Chris says, “there were six or seven times when the Access-A-Ride van never showed up to take me home. I had to call them to send another van, and that usually meant a two hour or longer wait.” Chris also reported to Action that he encountered many Access-A-Ride drivers with “a bad attitude” during his interning days here. But, since Chris is attending a Staten Island college now, it’s a different Access-A-Ride carrier providing his trips.
Chris says that the ADA paratransit service to and from Staten Island has been “much better.” We are not going to draw conclusions about ADA paratransit from the experience of two people in one city, but anecdotally in other parts of the country—like Charles and Chris— some people are using ADA paratransit services quite successfully while others seem less satisfied. The growth of ADA paratransit in our nation has expanded transportation options for many Americans with disabilities, but many others continue to live each day with no transport alternatives whatsoever. If you have stories to share with us about your own paratransit experiences, good or bad, please send them to email@example.com to Action Editor, United Spinal Association, 75-20 Jackson Heights, NY 11370-1177.
Terry Moakley is vice president of Public Affairs.