Report: Lack of transportation confines more than 500,000 people

Two disability advocacy groups released a new report May 8, calling on federal, state and local governments to dramatically expand transportation opportunities for people with disabilities.

Amtrak Locomotive
Report Criticizes Amtrak

“Access to transportation is a prerequisite to full civil rights for people with disabilities. The goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act—economic power, independent living, political participation, and equal opportunity—can only be realized with affordable, accessible transportation systems,” said Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, which published the report along with the Leadership Conference Education Fund, in a news release.

According to the report, titled Equity in Transportation for People with Disabilities, of the two million people with disabilities nationwide whom are never able to leave their homes, more than 560,000 cite a dearth of transportation opportunities as their primary obstacle. More than 31 percent of people with disabilities say they have inadequate transportation, compared to 13 percent of the rest of the population.

The report takes aim at federal transportation funding policies, which disproportionately favor investments in cars and highways over more universally accessible alternatives.

The ADA provided Amtrak, the government-owned passenger train company, a 20-year window to make all of its stations disability accessible. Almost two years after this July 2010 deadline passed, only about 20 percent of Amtrak’s stations are in compliance.

Though many train systems have overhauled their stations, the ADA only requires that “key stations” be fully ADA compliant, referring to major transfer stations and sites located in especially busy areas. Additionally, the ADA only requires new stations to add accessibility features, leaving many access points inaccessible due to a lack of elevators, overly wide gaps between trains and platforms and other obstacles for wheelchair users.

“In cities that have subways, commuter rails, or other systems built before the ADA took effect, including some large East Coast systems such as Boston and New York, there are few accessible stations,” the report stated. “Requiring only key stations to be made accessible, rather than incrementally making all existing rail stations accessible, has led to gaps in accessibility. Furthermore, it is difficult to agree on a ‘key’ station. Any station is key to those who use it.”

The report highlighted progress made in bus services, though issues relating to the failure of bus drivers to alert drivers of upcoming stops and a continued reliance on picking up passengers at inaccessible curbside stops remain a concern.

Most cities fail to provide taxi systems that comply with ADA regulations. While the ADA is only directly applicable to van-style taxis, not sedan-style taxis, cities are still required to provide the the necessary disability accessible services. In a landmark December 2011, a federal district court found that New York City’s taxi system violated the ADA for failing to provide “meaningful access” for people with disabilities.

And for people living outside of major metropolitan areas, these problems are compounded.

“Minimal or nonexistent transit services in rural areas severely curtail the mobility of people with disabilities and keep them from jobs, medical appointments, community life and independence,” the report states.

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