Our fight to fully fund safe and reliable Access service in King County builds upon an important history of fighting for accessible public transportation in this country.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requiring lifts on buses as well as paratransit was passed in 1990, thanks to the direct action of people with disabilities throughout the 1980s. Disabled people were in the streets, in the Capitol, blocking buses, fighting for the right to have functioning lifts and to ride the public’s buses.
Transportation agencies argued that installing and maintaining working lifts on buses would be too costly. They argued for a separate and unequal paratransit system, where agencies could allow trips only for work and medical appointments and never for socializing. They argued that allowing paratransit riders their unrestricted freedom of movement would be too costly.
Under the ADA, federal courts have upheld that agencies receiving federal dollars must provide both accessible fixed-route service and paratransit. It is federal law that agencies maintain lifts on all public buses and provide curb-to-curb paratransit that is “comparable to fixed route” without any restrictions on trip purpose. Accessible public transportation is a civil right.
But King County is still arguing that full accessibility of our public transportation system is too costly.
Anyone who rides Access, or is close to anyone who rides Access, knows that it is unreliable — there is a lot of waiting, a lot of being early, a lot of being late and a lot of being on the bus too long.
Anyone who rides Access, or is close to anyone who rides Access, knows that it is unreliable — there is a lot of waiting, a lot of being early, a lot of being late and a lot of being on the bus too long. Inevitably disabled and elderly riders get left behind, and I fear that it is only a matter of time before we experience a tragedy.
I’ve had friends left behind at Walmart and left behind downtown after businesses were closed, anxious with fear and vulnerable to predators after dark. Jackie Terrell writes about the fear of a Black mother, after Access dropped her son at the dentist before the office was open and the cops ordered him to leave, but due to his disability he was unable to comply.
Metro tells us that the most significant cost in improving standards for Access is that as service gets better, more eligible riders will want to use the system. Does that mean that Metro is purposefully providing poor service to disabled and elderly riders to keep ridership and costs low? This is not what we would expect from Martin Luther King Jr. County.
Metro’s consultants estimate that it would cost only an additional $10 million annually to operate a system that is more safe and reliable, and where Access riders can live their lives comparably to riders who can use the fixed-route system.
The main costs, again, according to Metro, are increased ridership. Metro predicts that as service improves more eligible riders will choose to ride more frequently. Higher quality “Tier 3” Access service would provide 55 percent more rides than “Tier 1.” Clearly this is the best option for the independence and community integration of our senior and disabled residents who are not able to use fixed -route transit.
Also, $10 million is a drop in the bucket compared with what a class action lawsuit would cost the county.
The current contract, which is still in effect through July 2019, pays multiple contractors more the longer riders are on the bus.
Clearly King County needs to do a better job representing rider and taxpayer interests in managing the Access service. If it is going to contract out, Metro must have higher standards of corporate accountability in the contract.
Tier 1 allows thousands more preventable violations each month than Tier 3. This is unacceptable.
The county has had 28 years to comply with the ADA. Aren’t the lives and safety of its citizens with disabilities more important than a sports team?
Fully fund Access service at Tier 3 — before it is too late and we are faced with a preventable tragedy.
Susan Koppelman is the Access campaign organizer for the Transit Riders Union and a member of Washington ADAPT West.
Check out the full Nov. 7 - 13 issue.
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