It’s no secret: transportation for persons with disabilities is a work in progress and has been since the passage of the ADA. Limitations in transportation are one of the major factors impeding a return to community day supports and employment for so many adults during this “post-pandemic” period.
“Mobility is freedom itself, period,” according to Scott Crawford, a retired neuropsychologist, who was quoted recently in the Washington Post. “Accessible transit gives people with disabilities the opportunity to work, engage and contribute to their communities. The alternative is tantamount to house arrest.”
Both the Washington Post (June 2020) and Forbes (February 2021) have published recent articles about the continued public transit barriers facing our community. For those who can safely utilize public transportation, many subway stations in major cities are NOT accessible. Busses, which are more likely to have better access, are sometimes not reachable. Consumers often face obstacle courses on the ground to reach the busses – whether it’s people blocking curb cuts, potholes, imposing traffic, or, once on board, finding that the space for wheelchair users is blocked by people or strollers.
Paratransit (publicly funded transit programs which offer specialized alternatives for persons with disabilities, such as “The RIDE”), is often the only alternative. They provide door-to-door service. In many areas, paratransit typically requires reservations — 24 to 48 hours before a ride — and usually offers only imprecise pickup windows. Paratransit is expensive, and often limited to populated regions (like Greater Boston). Since 2016, Boston has piloted an on-demand program with ride-hailing businesses such as Uber.
Another option used in Massachusetts is the Human Services Transportation Brokerage System (HST), which manages 8 million trips per year and is housed at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). The system assists consumers of EOHHS agencies such as DDS and DMH for trips as limited as occasional mid-day medical appointments to long-term, multiple days a week, route-structured program services (such as day services). Since July 1, 2021, brokerage services have been managed by only two regional transit authorities: the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) and the Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transit Authority (GATRA). In May, HST will host two listening sessions on how transportation brokerage has been performing since July 1. We encourage you to share your experiences at the listening sessions, which will be held on Monday, May 16 from 2:00-3:30 pm and Wednesday, May 18 from 6:00-7:30 pm. You can find the information here.
What will transportation look like in two decades? What is the right mix between better inclusion in public transportation and varying forms of paratransit including HST? Can we figure it out for urban, suburban and rural areas across our Commonwealth? Most likely it will take many of us working together to make mobility and access a part of our future reality!