by Kim Charlson
Everyone needs to have transportation – whether they provide it themselves or they rely on publicly funded transit services. People who are blind or visually impaired must rely on public transit, ADA paratransit, family, friends, private sources such as taxis, buses, or transportation networking companies (TNC) like Uber or Lyft, to manage family, work, medical, and just about everything else in our daily lives. ACB has always made advocacy and policy support in the area of public transportation a high priority.
All of us must be engaged in our local, regional, state, or national transportation delivery systems and pay attention to policy and regulatory changes in the transportation field to ensure that our needs are met.
Recently, I had the opportunity to represent ACB on a panel at the 2016 Transportation Research Board conference, the nation’s leading transportation policy and development organization. The Transportation Research Board (TRB) promotes innovation and progress in transportation through research. TRB facilitates the sharing of information on transportation practice and policy by researchers and practitioners alike; stimulates research and offers research management services that promote technical excellence; provides expert advice and input on transportation policy and programs; and disseminates research results broadly and encourages their implementation.
TRB’s activities annually engage more than 12,000 engineers, scientists, and other transportation researchers and practitioners from the public and private sectors and academia, all of whom contribute their expertise in the public interest by participating on TRB committees, panels, and task forces.
I was the only presenter at TRB representing a blindness organization to speak directly and from a firsthand perspective on the needs of people with visual impairments. My message was that we absolutely need transportation services, and they need to be accessible and available wherever we may live. Blind people are in urban, suburban, and rural settings, and the need remains wherever we are located, so that we are able to get to and from our intended destinations.
The panel I participated on dealt with multi-modal methods of delivering transportation services. It was entitled “Paratransit/Rural and Suburban Applications.” Co-presenters were: moderator: Stephen Zoepf, MIT; panelists: Emily Castor, Transportation Policy Director, Lyft; Jennifer O’Brien, Hopista, Founder; Jeff Maltz, SilverRide, Founder/CEO; and Art Guzietti, American Public Transportation Association. I had the opportunity to discuss fixed-route access, ADA paratransit and people who are blind, and the expansion of paratransit programs delivering services using traditional taxi companies, and shared ride services like Uber and Lyft.
If you are fortunate to be in a community that has Uber or Lyft, I expect you have tried them and find them very accommodating. Through the use of an app on a smartphone, you can connect to a ride quite easily. You are informed of the name of the driver who will be picking you up, what type of car they have, the license plate, and you also have the ability to call the driver or send a text message if they are having difficulty locating you. Payment is made through the app from your credit card, no cash changes hands, and you can rate the driver afterwards.
I will absolutely acknowledge that TNC’s are one of the most innovative boons to transportation services for people who are blind that we have seen in decades. However, there are constraints that often make them a less than viable option for everyone — namely the fee for the service. While it is lower than traditional taxis, it is still a fee that many may not be in a position to pay for this type of transportation. There are also concerns about the denial of guide dogs by Uber and Lyft drivers. I have been fortunate that Dolly and I have not been denied a ride; but I have several friends and colleagues who have had problems with drivers. Several consumer organizations have advocated, lodged complaints, filed suits, and continue to talk with upper management at both Uber and Lyft on how to eliminate this type of discrimination.
In April 2015, Ron Brooks, on behalf of ACB’s Transportation Committee and representatives from Guide Dog Users, Inc., developed a white paper entitled “Do Transportation Networking Companies Like Uber and Lyft Offer a Viable Alternative to Taxicabs for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired?” I recommend you check out this document at http://acb.org/transportation-network-companies. If you need a different format than is offered on the web site, let me know.
All of us need to be advocates for publicly supported transportation services. Get involved! Let officials know your opinions and needs, and work with your transit advisory committees to help guide the future direction of transportation in your community. If you don’t engage in the process, you may lose those incredibly important services that provide you with independence!