Federal agency releases massive transportation accessibility report

Photo of front of an Amtrak train.
Public Transportation Accessibility

The National Disability Council released the results May 4 of an extensive survey of the continuing barriers that people with disabilities face when riding public transportation.

The more than 400-page report, titled “Transportation Update: Where We Have Gone and What We’ve Learned,” is a follow-up to a highly influential report released in 2005.

“Much has happened in the last decade. More people with disabilities are riding public transit than ever before and yet, in many areas, significant barriers to ground transportation for Americans with disabilities remain pervasive,” NCD Chair Jeff Rosen said in a news release. “For Americans with Disabilities many transportation services remain stuck in neutral. For many Americans with Disabilities the prospects and possibilities for going to and from work, school and recreational activities are stuck in neutral.

“NCD’s report addresses the broad range of surface transportation, including these, and makes recommendations policymakers should use to address these barriers promptly.”

The report is divided into 11 sections, each of which highlights a different mode of transportation. Each chapter provides an overview of the various challenges faced within that transportation sector, as well as recommendations to fix the identified obstacles.

Urban BusDespite industry arguments that people with disabilities would gravitate toward separate paratransit programs, designed exclusively for people with disabilities, the NCD found that people with disabilities are increasingly relying on regular transportation options, such as public buses, subways and trains.

Among the largest problems identified by the NCD with these transportation options is continuing hostility that people with disabilities face when accompanied by services animals. In addition, many buses contain overly steep ramps and other design accessibility barriers.

Amtrak was singled out for its slow progress to coming into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In September 2014, the agency’s Office of Inspector General found that barely 10 percent of Amtrak’s stations are accessible, despite ADA requirements that the system be fully accessible by 2010.

The lack of options for people living in rural areas is a running theme throughout the report.

In addition to such persistent challenges, new transportation options, such as services provided by Uber and Lyft, pose new challenges to the ADA’s existing framework for promoting transportation accessibility.

“Taxi alternatives like Uber, SideCar, Lyft, and others, could open up exciting business opportunities and provide much-needed travel options for passengers with disabilities,” said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the research contractor for the report, in the news release. “But recent court cases and news reports show potential customers being routinely discriminated against because of service dogs and wheelchairs.

“As our nation gears up to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act later this year, let us resolve to move equal transportation access forward.”

The NCD, created in 1984, is an independent federal agency tasked with advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.