10th ANNUAL TRANSPORTATION CONFERENCE
TRANSPORTATION PANEL: Transit is now a matter of civil rights for those of us to have the freedom to participate in the mainstream of society. In fact, it was not even a driver who thought about the legal fight to accessible transportation, it was a Presbyterian Pastor—the late Wade Blank who was also working as an orderly in a nursing home in Denver, Colorado who was the catalyst for our transit movement.
It was in the early 1980s and Wade had many young friends in the nursing home, full of life and enthusiasm but after all the day’s routine of meals, bathing and grooming, therapy and meds, they all had to turn off the lights at 8 PM and dutifully go to bed as good patients, no matter the youthful curiosity about the nightlife outside the confines of the facility. He felt their oppression and made attempts to sneak them out for a beer at a club or a movie but he could not do it for many others yearning for the adventure. In the meantime, he saw the cars, buses, taxis available as options for the nondisabled. And then he started it, ADAPT—American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit and I was part of that history.
From then to now, transit is even more meaningful because it is the means by which we get to explore life more fully, it is a means to find our place in society and leave our creative, productive mark in all our endeavors. We are grateful for the options open to us now—paratransit, city and municipal buses, the trains and taxis, tour buses and very soon Uber and Lyft and similar options now popping up. It is easy to be readily impressed but as riders, we are as cautious as we are enthusiastic.
1.) We hope that transit design—how the inside seats are configured, how much space is allotted for safe and efficient boarding and deboarding are things that continuously necessitate attention, brainstorming, experimentation and updating. For example, we need creative designs for safety inside paratransit vans and taxis—the middle seat folded up to add a passenger next to it threatens to crush the middle passenger in an accident because there is no airbag that deploys to protect him from the metal mesh on the left side.
2.) In the 25 years that I have been riding paratransit, I have had mostly very good and courteous drivers, thoughtful and engaging. Where we begin to lock horns is in the area of policy interpretation and common sense.
Many of the systems are computerized I understand but we are human passengers, not boxes of merchandize picked up and dropped off—for the most part, we know best how our bodies work, how they fit or not fit into a space inside the van and we know too how our equipment work. We know the layout of our buildings and where is best to park. Paratransit policies should underscore that we know how to problem solve and are willing partners in facing specific challenges to difficult scenarios for our own safe and secure pick-ups and drop offs. Drivers should not be made to feel fear of losing their jobs just because we are guiding them in our home turf.
Policies need to have the buy in of the disabled riding public and not be strictly and blindly implemented, without a thought to what is reasonable and common sense. Considering how diverse disabilities are, how diverse are designs for mobility devices and Assistive Technology, how uneven the Los Angeles topography is, not to mention how different communities are laid out, one size cannot fit all.
Policies are good when they enhance and promote ridership but when they are oppressive or implemented erroneously, they can present as the most formidable barrier to transportation. Therefore it is always good to review their efficacy and to adjust them when necessary.
3.) Safety and Security on the bus and the train: A good number of us at CALIF use the train and the bus and we are increasingly experiencing the following:
Theft and robbery: just this week, two CALIF staff and their son were robbed on the Orange Line;
Attacks from Strangers: One of us was thrown hot coffee at, getting wet on her way to the office, the other one was spat upon.
Unsafe street crossings and sidewalks: Our Systems Change staff have had many near misses at a few city street crossings where the sidewalks are uneven or not even there.
Unsanitary and unhealthy environments: It is an extreme hardship to have to use the bus because they are made dirty by passengers and there is very little intervention to keep them clean and sanitary for the disabled riding public too. I myself had to endure a bus ride next to a passenger with fresh feces in his pants. It does not make sense when even hospital workers are protected with gloves and sanitary supplies for their health and we are exposed to the most unhealthy of environments on the buses! We risk our health taking the bus sometimes and need to see a safe and respectful procedure on handling that scenario. My wish for the system is to have a health car to the rescue for passengers obviously experiencing uncontrollable body discharges—it is a service for the riding public and the indisposed passenger obviously needing attention.
Inaccessible Bus Stops: Bus stops too are sometimes a problem especially when in the rain, we have to tread on mud.
4.) Improve the Rescue Operations Center the way it was originally conceived: In the late 1990s, we pushed for a 24-hour Rescue Operations Center to assist those stranded by paratransit and it worked very well because they would immediately send a driver to the rescue from whichever district he was originally working for as long as he was available. I noticed that now, they have limited that to the respective districts that had caused the problem anyway—meaning, that they make the passenger wait for a driver in the same district where the ride originated, even if there was an available driver from another district. This does not give justice to the stranded rider.
5.) Bring back the Same-day Service: In the 90s when there was not even Uber or Lyft, Access Services had Same-day Service. I will never forget the joy of being able to attend many more of the last-minute impulsive activities I could join because we had this incredible service. And that unforgettable night my Grandma died in Northridge and I could be with the family 40 minutes after I got the call. This service has since been removed because it was deemed an “enhanced service” over and above the minimum requirements of the ADA. With so many public options now open to the nondisabled riding public, we ask that it be brought back because if Uber and Lyft are transit enhancements given to the public, we deserve it too under the ADA.
• Did your community get activated in support of Measure M?
Yes, in fact, our disability community—Our Independent Living Center was among the first to be included in exploring the Measure. We had several meetings and I see many of our ideas already being prepared for implementation.
• Did they support the ballot measure? Has Measure M met expectations?
Yes, our community has been in support of Measure and voted for it. Post election, I think it is a process headed in the right direction.
• Given Measure M’s specific 2% funding commitment for seniors, people with disabilities and students, what had you hoped Metro would do with the money? What’s your assessment of Measure M’s added value to services now?
Transit is a complex issue and they say the Devil is in the details. Transit advocates like us appreciate our inclusion in the planning and implementation of transit system program designs and the consideration of future transit innovations like micro-transit systems that serve small side streets not served by regular bus lines; innovative technologies that make bus and train stops more accessible; more security on the train and some bus lines, etc.
What we also need is a purposeful sharing of what used to be exclusive information for transit professionals with us advocates. Close the gaps in transit information—include us in your professional conversations and conventions so that we are educated in the transit lingo—from budget to design to system efficiencies.
What we want to see is a more coordinated transit system that engages even private and limited transit providers like HMOs, grocery stores, even churches and others operating in their own silos so that one day, no one is ever left alone needing transportation!
Respectfully submitted by:
Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF)
Founder & Executive Director