July 19, 2010
The classifieds in this issue offer a diverse group of jobs including a transit general manager and several other executive positions!
ADA’s 20th Year: What’s Ahead?
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
July 26, 1990, was Independence Day for people with disabilities in America.
That was the date of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the 20 years since, mobility and accessible transportation have expanded, as has freedom of movement.
ADA mandated accessible transit service for all riders, and many of these services and technologies have been implemented, including low floor vehicles, automated stop announcements, high level platforms, and travel training. Said Mary A. Leary, Ph.D., senior director of Easter Seals Project ACTION: “Fixed route accessibility, New Freedom funded innovations, accessible pathways, coordinated planning, universal design, and other movements of the last decade assisted public transportation providers to better serve people with disabilities of all ages. Attention is now turning to bridging public transit with the private sector so that taxis, motor coach, rail, and airlines increase accessibility.”
J. Barry Barker, executive director of the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, KY, and APTA vice chair-government affairs, spoke about the importance of developing and maintaining trust between public transit operators and the disability community. “As we increase mobility and accessibility for people with disabilities, we actually increase accessibility for everyone,” he explained. He stressed that mobility improvements require both open discussion—and money. “Don’t lose sight of the overall picture,” he added. “Every time a new bus is purchased, it has accessibility features a little better than the previous model.”
Development of Paratransit
Certainly the biggest development in the charge of providing access has been door-to-door paratransit. Nick Promponas, senior vice president with First Transit in Tempe, AZ, said his management company enters into partnerships at the local level to help meet the needs of the disability community. While the firm may have provided service beyond ADA requirements in the past, he said, current economic realities may mean some changes in the future.
“I think ADA has served its intended purpose successfully,” Promponas said, “in how it’s gone from passage to application to meeting the letter and intent of the law. I think it’s had growing pains through the years, but it serves its constituents well.”
“ADA has heightened the expectations of persons with disabilities and the awareness of people without disabilities of the needs and rights of people with disabilities,” said James J. Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel, United Spinal Association. “Lift-equipped buses have worked fabulously … [and] paratransit has gotten better for on-time performance and reliability.”
The latter may continue to be a financial concern for transit agencies. As Weisman noted: “The better paratransit gets, the more demand there is for it. Moreover, people are aging and want to stay active in their communities.” He called for the implementation of travel training as part of school and vocational rehabilitation programs, and suggested incentives such as discounted fares to encourage paratransit users to try fixed routes. A public relations campaign, he said, might promote using public transportation as a way to be part of the community and all it has to offer.
Tammy Haenftling, assistant vice president, paratransit management services, for Dallas Area Rapid Transit and chair of the APTA Access Committee, echoed Weisman’s opinions regarding the relative importance of paratransit vs. fixed routes. “ADA has brought a lot of improvements necessary for people with disabilities, but it’s made paratransit the transportation mode of choice for this population,” she explained. “The initial intent was to make fixed route transportation accessible, and mainstream it so everyone could ride. Instead, systems ramped up their paratransit programs and made that the mode of choice for riders with disabilities …. We need to get back to the true intent of ADA: to mainstream people with disabilities into public transit, not to give them an isolated service.”
Another concern Haenftling cited were the “attitudinal barriers” that still exist when persons with disabilities use fixed route transit. “If I could wave a magic wand, all attitudinal barriers would be gone,” she said. “That would go a long way toward the effort of helping all people, not just people with disabilities, enjoy the freedom and independence to go anywhere, anytime we want. ADA can help by imposing strong penalties and repercussions for not following the mandate.”
Looking forward, Weisman would like to see increased use of accessible taxis and integration of privately operated taxis into paratransit fleets as a way to lower operating costs.
Barker hoped the lessons learned over the past 20 years about universal design, inclusion, and collaboration will serve the nation well in the growth and development of livable communities benefiting all people.