This iconic command from Captain Kirk in the 1960’s Star Trek series quickly became a favorite catchphrase. Getting “beamed up” to the Starship Enterprise meant a speedy escape from unfriendly aliens armed with powers and weapons to destroy the Enterprise and its crew. Aside from the humorous notions of earthlings using the command to escape their own undesirable situations, it did serve as an intriguing vision of future transportation.
Back on earth, transportation options are increasing – think Lyft, Uber and self-driving cars – yet six million people with disabilities are still unable to access transportation for their basic needs, according to the most recent government transport survey conducted in 2003. The Americans with Disabilities Act provided equality for riders but only for public transport: all new vehicles used for public transit must be accessible, transit operators must provide paratransit services for individuals who cannot use available mass transit, and existing rail stations and all new rail stations and facilities must be accessible. It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone takes transportation for granted and is usually the last thing we think about, if we think about it at all.
E.B. White, the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, said, “Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.” As we advocate for inclusive employment, social and recreational opportunities, transportation has to be central to the conversation. Not just the accessibility but also affordability. Allen County’s transportation services for the disability community are good but keeping up with ridership demand is an ongoing challenge. Citilink’s Access service projects 58,000 passenger trips in 2017 in addition to 22,000 trips departing from the fixed routes. An alternative to mass transit is CTN, providing 50,000 passenger trips annually for 3,800 individuals unable to access public transportation. Federal funding cuts in all transportation programs make service expansion difficult, if not impossible, especially in rural communities.
Local taxi services, along with Lyft and Uber drivers using accessible vehicles, can help meet the demand however, there are too few and the costs are often unaffordable. Self-driving cars offer the next best solution to meeting ridership capacity and hopefully, are also affordable. Disability and transportation advocates have been working with companies on accessible design such as style of door handles, floor height, lighting, ramps, lifts, voice-activated navigation and communication systems to accommodate individuals with any type of disability.
The future is promising for how quickly people with disabilities will get to where they want to go, and when they want to go. Scotty – we may not need you after all.