Public transportation services for people with disabilities must get better, MPC says

Toward Universal Mobility, a report by the Metropolitan Planning Council, lays out 32 recommendations for improving public transportation for the 800,000 people with disabilities in the Chicago region.

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A woman using a wheelchair waits for a bus at the corner of Dearborn and Harrison in Chicago.

A new report from the Metropolitan Planning Council lays out 32 recommendations to various government agencies in hopes of improving public transportation for people with disabilities.

Sun-Times file photo

Having to walk over a grassy area to stand at a shelterless bus stop can be annoying for most commuters.

For some of the 800,000 people with disabilities in the Chicago area, it can mean maneuvering a wheelchair through the mud, making a difficult trip worse.

A new report from the Metropolitan Planning Council lays out 32 recommendations to various government agencies in hopes of improving public transportation for people with disabilities.

Toward Universal Mobility contends every person in the Chicago region eventually will face an impairment that impacts their mobility or will know someone they care for being affected.

The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities but more needs to be done in making public transportation accessible for everyone, the report said.

“When a system fails those who need it the most, it fails us all,” MarySue Barrett, the president of Metropolitan Planning Council, said in a letter. “Eventually, everyone will face illness, impairment, or old age and need transportation choices for themselves and their loved ones.”

“Now is the time to make the necessary improvements that can improve our neighbors’ lives, and our own.”

Metropolitan Planning Council is an organization dedicated to improving economic development, helping create vibrant neighborhoods and making transportation more accessible for everyone in Chicago.

The report’s top recommendation is to create a “mobility coordinator,” a new position or council housed at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Regional Transportation Authority or at the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The coordinator would identify gaps in paratransit services across jurisdictions or county lines and help government agencies work together to fill those needs.

“Working collaboratively with local governments, transit agencies and private-sector partners, a Mobility Coordinator would increase the quality of life for everyone,” Barrett said.

Other recommendations include creating cellphone applications that provide real-time information on paratransit vehicles as well as modernizing routing and dispatching software. The most common complaint among Pace paratransit riders was the dispatching software causing late arrivals and rides, the report said.

“We are already working on some improvements to our ADA Paratransit Service thanks, in part, to the Rebuild Illinois Bill passed earlier this year. Twenty-million dollars was earmarked for investments in our communications technology and transfer locations,” Pace spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said.

Pace’s upgrades to its ADA Paratransit Services should be rolled out by the third quarter of 2020. It includes new software, hardware, servers, a mobile app and online booking.

Other recommendations:

  • Centralize all information on available services from the public, private and nonprofit sector
  • Increase audible cues at intersections
  • Integrate ADA paratransit scheduling with real-time, fixed-route information
  • Build more shelters with seating at stops, stations and transfer points
  • Provide real-time vehicle information and station conditions

Manny Ramos is a corps member inReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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