Accessible Transit: Available, But Still Striving for Exceptional

Accessible #publictransport in #Chicago: @ADA25AdvLeaders explored generational divides, commuting habits, malfunctioning wheelchair lifts, the potential of ride sharing services + more at #OnTheTable2018 Tweet This

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ADA 25 Advancing Leadership and the Disabilities Fund participated in On the Table to initiate dialogue about tackling our region’s greatest challenges. To be successful, the disability community must be included. We aim to expand understanding and ensure that disability is recognized and taken into account at all our region’s tables.

Through #OnTheTable2018, we hosted conversations about topics that intersect with and affect the disability community. Transportation is one of those challenges that has particular relevance to the disability community. One gathering was hosted by ADA 25 Advancing Leadership members who are deeply involved as members of ADA advisory committees for PACE and CTA, and used On the Table to discuss strategies for exceptional public transit.


“Public transportation for a lot of us in the room, it’s truly a lifeline, right? It’s not just how we get around by choice: It is truly our primary option,” said ADA 25 Advancing Leadership and CTA advisory committee member Bridget Hayman.

“I actually moved to Chicago because of public transportation. I think there is a common thread that it’s not just nice to have for us, it’s a true necessity. Public transportation is very much a part of our city culture, and certainly a primary part of our lives,” Hayman added.

More than 800,000 residents of the Chicago region—approximately 10% of the population—report having a disability. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public transportation be accessible, giving people with disabilities equal opportunity to reach their jobs and other destinations.

Most of the On the Table participants were heavy users of public transportation, but generational influences seemed to factor in to transportation preference. Participants shared stories about baby boomers who were adamant about having independence and preferred to drive, or about how experiencing accessible transportation shifts across the decades made them weary and more inclined to stick with paratransit: services that supplement larger public transit systems with individualized rides that don’t operate by fixed routes or timetables.

“Public transportation, it’s truly a lifeline, right? It’s not just nice to have for us, it’s a true necessity.”

In contrast, members of the younger generation at the table seemed drawn to the possibilities that ride sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft, provide. They saw the opportunity for new choices with increased flexibility if accessibility becomes the norm. In addition, some thought that ride sharing could offer some individuals with disabilities an entry point to pursue employment.

Additionally, for many attendees, the preferred mode of transportation had been shaped by the scars of hostile and inhospitable interfaces: cruel crowd reactions when buses were delayed due to ramp malfunctioning; inexcusably long wait times; quadrupled and quintupled commute times; challenges caused by inclement weather, such as huge puddles or sidewalks and ramps that aren’t shoveled.

Participants were excited about having more choices, but emphasized that as the transportation system evolves, all choices must be viable, and truly accessible, choices. Some of the feedback included:

  • Ride sharing services should not supplant paratransit or be seen as an option to defray paratransit costs/expenses.
  • Subscription paratransit service should thoughtfully assess how individuals move in the modern world (e.g. commutes may not be direct, point-to-point trips), and may need to become more widely publicized and available.
  • Open Taxis, the centralized dispatch for accessible taxis, should improve responsiveness and quality of service to compete with other ride sharing models.
  • Public transportation should perform regular maintenance to ensure proper mechanical functioning.
  • As ride sharing services create targeted accessible services, they should ensure an adequate and accessible fleet of vehicles fully covering the area of their operation whose drivers are trained to operate them safely.
  • Drivers and operators should see themselves as service providers, working to build relationships and better communicate with riders.
  • Technology should be properly utilized to help all accessible transportation modes function efficiently and thoughtfully.

Advancing Leadership and PACE ADA committee member Francine Bell shared many of her experiences with public and paratransit, both throughout the Chicago region and in other U.S. locales. She called on participants to make a personal commitment to give service providers data points, reaffirming a recurring theme throughout the session.

“Let’s think about what each of us can commit to doing to improve service for people with disabilities: Make a phone call, send some emails, join a focus group; just think about making a personal commitment to do something to help improve transportation for people with disabilities,” Bell advised.

Members of the younger generation at the table seemed drawn to the possibilities that ride sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft, provide. They saw the opportunity for new choices with increased flexibility—and some saw ride sharing as an entry point to pursue employment.

Participants left knowing that they have a role to play in keeping transit agencies and companies informed of user experiences, with the hope that continuous feedback will result in a transportation system that improves for all.

As the region’s population ages, the number of people with disabilities will inevitably grow. Excellent, efficient, accessible transportation will be more important than ever for our communities’ success.


The Disabilities Fund’s Inform and Act factsheet presents critical data about disability throughout the Chicago region. How can you implement a #DisabilityLens in your work and improve outcomes? Tweet @ADA25AdvLeaders and share your plans.