The Need to Improve Transportation Accessibility

Last updated: July 2022

Since I don’t drive and use a motorized wheelchair for mobility because of my rheumatoid arthritis, accessible transportation options are essential for me to get to doctors appointments, run errands (like grocery shopping), work (unless I’m teleworking), and have a social life. While delivery is nice, it doesn’t solve all my needs for getting things done.

Limited wheelchair-accessible transportation options

Unfortunately, my experience is that accessible transportation options have been declining instead of improving as they should be. It has worsened even faster during the pandemic.

Worsening train service

In my home of Washington, DC, our metro train system has been in a multi-decade tailspin resulting from a lack of maintenance and a poor response to increasing demand. The elevators to enter the system regularly break down and take a long time for repairs. For example, although I’ve been teleworking, I had to go into the office last spring for some administrative work and found that both of the stations closest to my office had broken elevators. I had to motor myself more than a mile to access the train to get home.

During pre-pandemic times, the metro trains were often so crowded it was difficult for me to get my wheelchair aboard. Recently, the metro was scrutinized for safety issues and had to pull 60% of the train cars. It’s been over a month, and they are still running on significantly reduced service. Thankfully I am still teleworking because it would likely be physically impossible to get my wheelchair on those crowded cars due to the reduced service. As an aside, the city offered residents free bike share accounts, which was laughable to me. What are wheelchair users going to do with a bicycle?!

Buses are usually more reliable

Thankfully, the local buses have saved me and remain accessible for my wheelchair. Taking the bus is the only reliable method I have of getting to appointments and other necessary places, other than motoring myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my motor, but it does have a limited distance it can go, so the bus is crucial for traveling anywhere outside my immediate neighborhood. However, it takes time and patience to get around by bus.

Cab services are largely impractical

Accessible cab service continues to disappoint and deteriorate. While the service was barely functional before the pandemic, it greatly declined due to a driver shortage. On a recent night, I booked a wheelchair cab home for my husband and myself after a Genesis concert in the city center. When I called to check on the cab, the dispatcher told me no accessible vehicles were out. We saw at least 6 wheelchair users in a packed venue of older fans, yet they didn’t bother to put any accessible cabs on the road. I had booked my ride 10 days in advance, and they didn’t bother to get me a cab or let me know that service would not be forthcoming. It was abysmal.

It’s perhaps even more depressing that I expected this terrible accessible cab service, so I had a backup plan. We rolled 20 minutes in near-freezing temperatures to take a bus to get home instead. It added more than an hour and a lot of time in the cold to the evening. The next day, my RA flared.

Those of us with disabilities need reliable transportation

I complain, but it doesn’t get me anywhere. I wish Phil Collins (the lead singer for Genesis) would complain as maybe they would care! He uses a cane and can’t walk far. I bet he could use an accessible cab now and then, but they aren’t to be found here in the capital of the US. No wonder he doesn’t tour much. He probably wants to stay in London where all the cabs are required to be accessible. Lucky guy!

I sure hope some improved transportation comes soon. Congress recently passed a bill that distributes funds for improving accessibility. The goal is to make transit more accessible (did you know that a majority of subway stations in New York City are still not accessible?) and address decades-old problems related to accessibility. But I fear more is needed. People need to complain in their communities and demand the access they deserve. It shouldn’t be hard to find an accessible train, ride the bus, or get an accessible taxi. Just because we have disabilities doesn’t mean we don’t need to get around our communities. Indeed, the more we’re out there, the better it needs to be for access.

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