by Daveed Mandell
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Genesis — a local interfaith organization focused on various progressive issues — has created a Disability Justice Task Force. It has “married,” if you will, this task force with its public transit advocacy efforts.
Last June, Genesis invited public transit advocates with disabilities to conduct an ADA paratransit workshop for Bay Area transit advocacy organizations. Christine Fitzgerald, Community Advocate with the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, talked about how complicated and arduous planning a paratransit trip can be. She delivered a slide presentation about a hypothetical trip that involved two paratransit operators with completely different approaches to fare collection and service provision.
At the conclusion of the workshop, we offered a call to action. One of our requests to workshop participants was to sign and spread the word about H.R. 3744, the Johnson operating funds-focused public transit bill which had just been introduced in Congress.
During our workshop planning sessions, the question came up, what was to be our call to action regarding ADA paratransit? If paratransit is such a complicated, unworkable and unequal system, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to change it to make it more equal, more equitable, fairer, easier to navigate and more convenient? How are we going to eradicate ADA paratransit’s glaring inequalities?
We discussed these serious and provocative questions for quite a while and finally decided to launch a petition on the website change.org, calling for the restructuring of ADA paratransit as a regional same-day, on-demand service linked to the inability to drive, not to fixed-route transit. After all, paratransit riders have to make advance reservations. We’re denied freedom of movement — a fundamental human right guaranteed under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unlike some 95% of Americans who drive, we paratransit riders are also denied access to the nation’s intricate system of highways and roads.
The amazing thing is that this petition came about, because Genesis — an organization which is not primarily comprised of people with disabilities — joined with the disability community as allies and helped us launch it. The organization challenged us to make a bold move, to take a strong position.
We explained to Genesis that the federal government would have to restructure ADA paratransit. However, a number of people contended that we have to begin pressuring our local transit agencies now. Otherwise, they said, nothing will change. Public transit agencies have to understand that nothing prevents them from providing service that goes above and beyond the minimum ADA requirements.
This is just the beginning. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We know that many people will say that this petition should never have been launched on the local level. However, we think it’s time to act now. Time is on our side. Several public transit agencies throughout the country — in Massachusetts, Florida and other states — have begun to realize that the current ADA paratransit model does not meet the needs of most paratransit riders, and that it is extremely expensive for transit agencies to operate.
People with disabilities throughout the Bay Area are in the midst of establishing what we have called the Bay Area Cross-Disability Coalition (BAXDC). We very much appreciate the encouragement that Genesis has given us to move forward, work toward integrating people with disabilities on fixed-route transit, and make ADA paratransit a much more equal and equitable system. You can view the petition at https://tinyurl.com/nbbxejy6.
It’s time for the American Council of the Blind and its state affiliates to begin taking bold action. Yes, it will probably take a long time to achieve our goal. Be that as it may, now is the time to wage a strong national campaign to restructure ADA paratransit for everyone’s benefit.