By Hilary Reeves, Communications Director
Of the nearly 2 million people with disabilities who never leave their homes, 560,000 never leave home because of transportation difficulties.
The 2013 Minnesota legislative session could be pivotal in delivering more transportation options for people with disabilities—and all residents of the state. Several voices—including the Governor, regional Chambers of Commerce, and the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition—are saying that more transit is essential to our economic health. But whether these investments will happen depends on the votes at the legislature this session.
The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition supports legislation (HF 1044 and SF 927) that would greatly expand transit (in the metro and statewide) as well as funding for bicycling, walking, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With more than 45 members statewide, Transit for a Stronger Economy unites unions, developers, people with disabilities, low-income and underserved communities, and active transportation, health, and environmental interests.
For people with disabilities, the bill and the new funding that it would bring, would make a difference in three key ways:
1) Funding to local cities and counties for ADA facilities. The bill would provide $50 million per year to metro-area cities and counties to address local needs, including ADA enhancements, safer sidewalks, bicycle routes, and other transit investments, such as shuttles. By law, all new facilities must be ADA compliant. These funds could help cities and counties retrofit existing facilities or fund system enhancements for which funds are never available.
“For instance, Metro Mobility could add text messaging to users that their ride is approaching, just like taxicabs currently have,” said Ken Rodgers, chair of the Minneapolis Disability Committee. “Or, cities or counties could upgrade telephone systems for paratransit so waiting queues aren’t so long.”
People with disabilities in communities across the country continue to face barriers such as inaccessible bus stops, intersections without curb ramps, street crossings and pedestrian signals that are not audible to individuals with visual disabilities, and barriers such as telephone poles blocking sidewalks. If people with disabilities cannot even get down their streets, they will be unable to connect to other forms of transportation.
2) Expansion of local bus service—in the metro and greater Minnesota. The plan calls for a 4% increase in bus service in the metro, which means more routes and longer service hours, including weekends and non-peak hours. In Greater Minnesota, the funding would add 250 bus routes across 64 operating systems, including adding transit service in un-served counties. Expanded service means expanded access for persons with disabilities, both on regular route service and via paratransit.
By law, paratransit service (service for people with disabilities who are unable to use public transit) is tied to regular transit service routes and hours. To be eligible for services such as Metro Mobility, a person with disabilities must live within a certain distance of regular-route bus service. Expanding coverage for bus service means, therefore, that more people with disabilities will be eligible for paratransit service.
As noted by the American Association of Persons with Disabilities (AAPD), “fixed-route public transit is the goal of the ADA for those who are able to use it. Paratransit was envisioned only for those people with disabilities who are unable to use mass transit systems, not for those who merely choose paratransit.” Making regular route transit service work for more people can mean adding curb cuts to make streets more accessible and making fixed-route service more ADA compliant, says AAPD, adding that “sometimes the biggest impediment to greater use of mass transit by an individual with a disability is fear or inexperience.” This is also true for many people without disabilities who have not tried riding the bus!
3) Higher-amenity service makes boarding easier for people with disabilities. In the metro, the funding plan would add high-amenity rapid bus service (also called enhanced bus) on 12 routes. Rapid buses mimic light rail trains and have lower boarding doors, making it easier for people using wheelchairs to board. The region would also see three more light rail lines (including Southwest, Bottineau, and an east-metro line) and Bus Rapid Transit on four more highway corridors.
Keeping people with disabilities at home keeps them out of jobs, away from shopping, and out of community life, and it prevents them from making valuable contributions to our society as individuals, as workers, as consumers, and as taxpayers.
To learn more about the Transit for a Stronger Economy campaign and legislation to fund transit, walking, bicycling, and ADA compliance, visit www.transit4mn.org.
Show your support at the hearing on March 20, 6-7:30pm, at the State Office Building, Room 10.