By Micheline Maynard
We asked you to send us a week’s worth of your regular transportation use. It’s a great way to see how you’re getting around — car, public transportation, bike, walking — and to gauge what you’d like to hear about from us.
Our first installment comes from a unique point of view. John Miller writes the Blind Travel Blog, and I’ve gotten to know him on Twitter. He was inspired by our request for transportation diaries to write this blog post. We’re republishing it with his permission. Thanks, John, for taking part. We’ll have more from him — and from you — in the days to come.
“On Twitter I follow Micki Maynard, a reporter who just announced the Curbing Cars Project. This is an effort to get a sense of how and to what degree our transportation choices may have changed in the last few decades. In short, how do we get around?
I’m participating, by keeping a diary for a week on my transportation interactions to collect data that will then be used, along with many others, to get a sense of wider trends.
As a person with a visual disability, I obviously have never been able to drive. This may well change in the future, though, as companies like Google and others continue to make strides in creating cars that won’t really need much input from their drivers in order to cruise the streets.
I suppose there are reasons to be leery of this invention, and as many say in reference to that the idea of blind people in such automobiles by themselves will be slow to catch on even if they are proven safe, mainly due to what some call social capital. This means that the general attitudes will have to moderate, which will likely take many years.
So until that beautiful time comes, we have to cobble together the easiest way to get across town and to hit the road. Many would say that would be paratransit, but, well, that just depends.
And what is paratransit, you ask? Loosely defined, it is a patchwork of accessible vehicles, usually an offshoot of a city’s fixed-route transit system, that takes clients with verified disabilities from door to door. I don’t know how wide that criteria spans, but they definitely work with people with mobility difficulties and blind folks.
Someone conducts assessments to determine whether an individual can cross streets and thus gain access to fixed-route buses. The way it worked when I was in Charlotte was that if you actually could hop the bus sometimes, you were able to get a pass that would grant use of both systems. This meant I could use the paratransit to get to work, and still have an unplanned day on the town if I wanted.
That last is an important point, and the main reason I don’t often use paratransit. Many systems require you to call at least a day in advance in order to book a ride, mostly because of the logistical challenges involved in planning routes. I discovered why having such a policy does generally make sense, but still one rarely has everything thought out even that far in advance.
Here in Durham, I still haven’t signed up for the local paratransit system. I know there are some legitimate reasons why I should do so, but the paperwork will take a while to process. Plus, even if I do opt in, I’ll likely still take the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) and Triangle Transit routes to work, because they are considerably cheaper. Here I can’t get one of those combination passes, but must instead pay almost double per ride on a paratransit vehicle.
The only area in which I see using paratransit potentially benefiting me would be in getting to the grocery store. Although even that has been mitigated some by my having found an excellent taxi driver who always charges me a predictable price and also will walk me up and down the aisles as I acquire the goods.
This gets to my final point about getting around, especially as it applies to persons with disabilities that make it difficult to drive: it can be a real challenge! Often even in the cities with the best transit systems, there are times where one wishes to just jump in a car and get to somewhere quickly. What about when it’s not an ambulance-level emergency, but one must confront an issue that suddenly crops up and do so without a big hassle.
Most of us have the experience of dealing with kind, well-meaning friends who may in the end make us feel like a nuisance because we have chosen to ask for their assistance to reach a destination. Usually in these situations, our options are limited. Yet, I at least always try to ensure that an individual whom I’ve asked can feel free to say no.
And believe me, because our options are so limited, it is far better for you to say no as quickly as you can rather than just kind of sitting on the fence, so that we can look into whatever other possibilities might exist. Often, it’s almost worse to actually get what we want done but feel a person’s inconvenience over having to do this thing while tired or wishing to do something else than to just let it go by.
So if I ask you, or anyone needing such a service does, please let us know what the deal is. And if you feel you should charge for that favor, please state it. I then have to make the decision whether I can pay your named price or come up with another means of getting where I want to go.
These are just some of my thoughts regarding transportation for persons with disabilities, about which I admit I think a lot. I invite others to chime in with their thoughts as well.
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