June 10, 2021

How To Improve Public Transportation: Making It More Accessible

Public transportation plays a large role in big and small cities alike. In many places across the world, people rely on public transport to take them to their job or to school every single day. This allows many to skip buying a car and paying for parking, both of which are financial and environmental benefits. Transit service has also been known to improve air quality by reducing traffic on streets and minimizing land use required by parking lots or highway development. While public transit is a great solution for many problems, issues of accessibility have arisen from public transportation services.

While public transit can make it easier for people to get from point A to point B, it can be inaccessible for people living with a disability or who are impoverished – exactly the demographic that needs public transportation the most. In this article, we will discuss various ways to improve public transportation systems by ensuring they are accessible to everyone. This includes discussing the infrastructure of buses and agencies, the quality of public transit services, the cost per trip, and more.

Person in wheelchair boarding a wheelchair accessible bus.

Low-Income Ridership Fees

In many urban areas, low-income or homeless individuals rely on public transportation to move around their local area. This is because they do not have access to personal vehicles or other modes of transport like Uber. Despite the lower costs associated with public transportation, many still struggle to pay the fee of their ride.

Stephen Farber and Jeff Allen, two geographers from the University of Toronto, call this “transport poor”. According to Farber, transport poor is “a mix of disadvantages: socioeconomic status (low income, ill health, being a recent immigrant or elderly) and a lack of access to transportation (being unable to afford a car, or reach destinations easily by transit, for example).”

According to Farber and Allen’s research, when an individual is transport poor, the rest of their lives are impacted. They have limited access to goods and services, the ability to find and keep a job, access to government services, and more. Because of the limited access to these resources, the vicious cycle continues and it becomes virtually impossible for someone to escape poverty.

Because access to public transportation is critical for low-income and homeless individuals’ mobility access to goods and services, and ability to escape poverty, it is important that they receive help to cover the cost of public transportation.

City of Toronto’s transportation isn’t as accessible as it should be for everyone.

 

Several cities in Ontario have put in place an affordable transit pass system for low-income riders. Brampton/Mississauga, Guelph, Hamilton, Halton, Ottawa, London and more have offered discounts for their public transit passes as long as an individual can prove that their income is below a specified amount determined in association with the number of people in their family. For example, in Brampton/Mississauga, a family of one needs to prove that they make $22,133 per year or less to be eligible for the program whereas a family of four needs to prove that their income is $44,266 or less to qualify. This can be beneficial for families who may have a higher income but more dependents to support.

The affordable transit pass system may help reduce the costs associated with the transit system for low-income individuals, but the cost is still much too high for many people experiencing homelessness. Many cities and public transportation services are currently seeking to make improvements for homeless people in their communities whether this is free rides on the bus or a pay-what-you-can system.

Overall, it is important to make public transport inclusive through discounted rides and affordable passes for low-income and homeless individuals. This will help them manage the cost associated with their mobility and may help them improve their socio-economic status.

Wheelchair accessible vehicle puts ramp down for customer in a wheelchair.

Accessible Public Transport Vehicles

The physical infrastructure of public transportation vehicles (i.e., buses, trains, subways) and stops can be a difficult challenge for anyone with a disability. Just try to imagine it:

You need to get to the grocery store but it’s too far away from your home and pushing your wheelchair there will be exhausting. The only option you have is to take public transportation. A subway is a good option but the route you need to take to get to the tracks is difficult for your chair, so you choose to take the bus instead. After you arrive at the bus stop and wait, the bus you need pulls up. In order to get on, the vehicle needs to align with the sidewalk of the city streets. The bus will start lowering itself to make it easier for you to get on, but this happens at a slow speed. The bus takes up extra road space, backing up traffic, blocking the bike lane, and delaying other city buses. After you have gotten on, you need to hope that no other riders are in the designated space for wheelchairs. If the area is free, you put the breaks on your wheelchair, possibly strap it in, and hope it doesn’t come loose as your bus switches lanes in the congested city traffic.

Taking public transit like the bus service can be an overwhelming task for anyone with a disability. Taxis are not a great alternative either. Data shows that taxi drivers driving accessible cars tend to avoid passengers with disabilities. Paratransit is a great alternative method of transportation.

Disabled person in a wheelchair waiting for paratransit service.

Paratransit is a community transit service that serves people living with a disability, their caregivers and other family members who cannot take typical public transportation like the bus or subway. Cars or buses with accessible seats offer on-demand services during the same hours as bus transit, taking them where they need to go. Data shows that there are many benefits to paratransit including:

  • Increased transportation service for disabled people
  • Transportation to where bus routes will not typically go, thus increasing accessibility and ease
  • Advanced mobility; less hassle for navigating local communities and urban cities alike
  • Independent living
  • Increased efficiency with real-time, on-demand transportation

Persons with disabilities’ equal access to “adequate, dignified public transit services” is a right that is protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. If community members are not receiving this equal service through typical public transit, communities should consider investing in a bus or fleet of buses for paratransit purposes.

Private paratransit services are also growing in response to an increased demand for accessible public transportation. For instance, MUVE is a company that hopes to revolutionize the public transit service with the goal to make truly accessible transportation around the world. As they establish their company and a network of vehicles, they look forward to welcoming passengers aboard soon.

Assisted Rides On Public Transit

No two transit riders are the same. Some people need extra support when they are taking the bus, light rail, or private cars while others are efficient riders who master the routes and mannerisms of transit with ease. The diverse needs mean that riding buses can come naturally for some, while others find it an overwhelming task to do by themselves.

Public transit needs to include convenient paratransit services for the disabled.

It is important that public transit agencies provide their staff with thorough training for riders with different needs. This includes riders with mental disabilities, those with little to no experience riding buses, and anyone else who looks like they may need help or requests assistance. Such attentive service is an important part of making public transit more accessible for everyone.

Bus and tram drivers should be well equipped to help their riders determine the right route for their trip, paying their fare and ensuring their safety during their trip on public transportation. However, this may be too many responsibilities for a driver trying to navigate traffic and monitor traffic signals.

It is recommended that each municipal Department of Transportation should hire or recruit volunteers for an assisted ride service. This will ensure that their passengers can get the help they need and, in turn, make public transit more accessible.

Making An Accessible, No Limits Transit Service

Public transportation vehicles like buses and rail transit are easy and efficient systems that can get you from point A to point B with great speed. But, they often need some improvements to make them accessible systems for everyone. Many communities are seeking ways to improve public transit service for those who are not able-bodied, middle or high-income individuals.

In order to provide quality transit, agencies need to make their public transportation more accessible for disabled, low-income people. Communities should evaluate their transit infrastructure by completing research and surveying their communities. The data gathered from these can guide transportation and policy development to ensure that local public transportation meets the needs of all members of the community.

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