Mobility for the Disabled: US Experiences

Orange County, California
by Michael E. BAILEY, Transit Advocates of Orange Country Steering Committee in Orange County, California, USA; and member of the California State Council on Development Disabilities
From my experience with public transportation in Orange County, I believe that for many people, the bus system is not a lifestyle enhancement; it is a basic lifeline service.  In California, nearly the entire disability community in the state is transit dependent. Many seniors can no longer drive or wish not to drive and also depend on transit.  And, many school districts have drastically cut back or completely eliminated their school bussing budgets, creating still another transit dependent group.

The above situation is something not confined to Orange County, or California. Part of the process of creating the new Employment First Policy - moving the disabled from workshops into integrated community jobs - for California included looking at how the policy worked in other states, and one question that was always asked was how important public transportation was in making integrated work in the community for disabled people successful.  In nearly every case, public transportation was listed as a barrier.  Sometimes, a major one.  In Tennessee, the Employment First Policy was failing because they had no transportation to get to and from work in paid jobs in the Community.  In the State of Washington, each county is responsible for implementing the Employment First Policy there.  Its success depends on the county and how good and effective public transportation is in each county.  In some counties, like King, public transportation is world class and the Employment First Policy works well.  In other counties, only a very few developmentally disabled persons have been able to get paid jobs and most remain in the workshop because of poor public transportation.  In still other counties, disabled persons have not been able to live where they chose but have been told by the county to move to the county seat where there is some public transportation or the people cannot be served.  And, in the Province of British Columbia, lack of a good transportation system for much of the Province was listed as a major barrier to Employment First paid employment there and most developmentally disabled persons in British Columbia were still in workshops.

If the disabled are to have a more integrated life and to be a part of their communities public transportation will be critical and nor more so than in our rural areas.  Rural systems of public transportation must be created for Employment First Policy and other important policy initiatives to be successful.  In the rural areas, the miles are long, the jobs are few, the costs are high.  This is an area that cries out for public-private partnerships to make public transportation a reality.  Examples might be rural counties collaborating with Native-American Tribal Governments, inter-Tribal Government Transportation Agreements, and groups of several rural counties and Tribal Governments working together to create a good rural public transportation system.

One example of good rural public transportation that I found while working on developing California's Employment First Policy was the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Public Bus Service.  The Tribal Bus Service serves the entire reservation and the rural counties and towns in Northeastern Oregon, and connects this area to the cities of Walla Walla, Kennewick, and Pasco, Washington.  Anyone can use the Tribal Public Bus service and it is fully integrated into the larger public transportation system.  Tribal buses in Walla Walla are times to meet the Valley Transit buses at the Walla Walla to the Greyhound Regional Terminal in Pasco.  The Tribal buses to Kennewick and Pasco connect to the Ben Franklin Transit System for service on to anywhere in the tri-cities area of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick, Washington.  The Tribal buses are all wheelchair accessible and for disabled persons who cannot use the fixed route buses, the Umatilla Tribal Government has a taxi voucher program.  No one is turned away who needs service.  The Tribal buses have their schedule to Walla Walla coordinated with the Town of Pendleton, Oregon's Bus Service to Walla Walla so that there is good service between Walla Walla and Northeastern rural Oregon.  This is the model for rural public transportation.  It provides a valuable service not just for disabled persons but the entire rural area served.

Public transportation really is a lifeline service for many.  It is the glue that holds everything together for most all the disabled allowing them to access jobs, housing, medical/dental services, banking, and grocery shopping, as well as to go to a movie or a restaurant once a while.