Issues with Transportation

By Janet Shouse

For the past few years, as I have been part of the TennesseeWorks Partnership, I have heard stories of difficulties that people with disabilities have with public transportation, but I personally had had very limited dealings with public transportation for people with disabilities—until recently.

Lorri Mabry

Lorri Mabry, Research Analyst with TennesseeWorks

A few weeks ago, we were in the process of hiring an individual who uses a wheelchair, and I was going to meet her at our Human Resources office to help her complete some paperwork. We had agreed to meet at 10 a.m. at 2525 West End Avenue.

The person we were hiring is Lorri Mabry. Lorri uses a wheelchair for mobility and an iPad to communicate. Lorri emailed me at 9:51 a.m. to say the bus had just arrived to pick her up. She lives in the Antioch area. So I knew she would be a little late.

I was standing out in front of the 2525 building and waved as the Access Ride bus passed by me twice, trying to alert the driver that this was where Lorri needed to be let off, since she can’t just call out to the driver nor can she step to the front door of the bus.

When the bus did not come back around again, I called Access Ride (at about 10:45 a.m.) and talked to an individual we’ll call Sarah. I explained the situation to Sarah, and I said I had no idea where the bus had gone. Sarah said she would try to locate the driver and let him know that I was waiting for him. At about the same time (10:45 a.m.), Lorri contacted me via email me to say that she was stuck near the side entrance of the 2525 building, back near the Marriott hotel, and could I come and get her. So I walked around the corner of the building and saw the bus.

In the driver’s defense, he may not have realized that I was waiting for him (and Lorri), and the numbers on the building are most prominent on the side entrance next to the Marriott Hotel, which is where he tried to get Lorri off the bus.

And I say tried because the driver, who I was told was new to the job, chose to park the bus in such a way that the wheelchair lift was directly in front of a 3-foot-wide concrete pillar. With the lift platform extended and down on the sidewalk, there was about 20 inches between the outer edge of the lift and the pillar. There was no way for Lorri’s power chair to maneuver off the lift platform. Then apparently the driver attempted to use the controls on Lorri’s chair to turn the chair to try to get her off the lift anyway, and he damaged the controls in such a way that they couldn’t be positioned for Lorri to be able to use.

After I saw the situation Lorri was in, I attempted to maneuver the controls on her chair to get her chair back onto the lift completely and back on the bus. After about 25 minutes of trying to work the controls and get her chair locked down, I was able to jury-rig the controls so that Lorri could use them again, and the bus driver took us around to the main entrance, where the Human Resources department is located. It was now 11:25 a.m. And we were to meet at 10 a.m. So we were an hour and 25 minutes behind schedule. And Lorri’s scheduled pickup time with Access Ride was 11:30.

So I called Sarah back to explain that we would need to reschedule the pickup, and Sarah said that was fine, just call when Lorri was ready to go.

     About the Authorjanetblog[1]

Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

Lorri and I went to the Human Resources office, completed the work we needed to do, and we were finished at 12:05 p.m. So I called Access Ride back and asked to talk with Sarah. It took several minutes on hold for me to talk with Sarah, and when I told Sarah that Lorri was ready to be picked up, she said it would be between an hour and an hour and a half.

Quite honestly, I was speechless, and for those of you who know me, I am seldom speechless. I could not believe after all the hassles, delays and incompetence we had experienced that my colleague was being asked to wait for an hour to an hour and a half! I had expected after all we’d been through that morning, the pickup service would have been extra quick and extra courteous. But, no. Sarah explained that since Lorri needed a wheelchair-accessible bus, it would take a while for such a bus to be available to get her.

So I left Lorri sitting on the sidewalk in front of the 2525 building, and I went back to my office. Fortunately, it was a pretty day with temperatures in the 70s. And Lorri said she was fine with waiting outside. I don’t know exactly how long it took the bus to come get Lorri, but she emailed me at 2:38 p.m. to assure me that she had arrived home safely.

I was stunned by the entire incident.

However, Lorri said this was not unusual. And other people, when I expressed my frustration and outrage about this incident, assured me that this happens all the time to those who use Access Ride.

“Access Ride is good for going anywhere you want in Davidson County, and most of time the drivers are friendly and professional,” Lorri said. “But a lot of bad things are wrong with Access Ride. First, sometimes they take you around town when the place you going is just down the street. For example, my church is just down the road, but sometimes they try to take me to Nolensville or Hermitage or downtown.”

Lorri also said, “Too many times they show up five minutes before your appointment time. If you give a pickup time without an arrival time, they think they can drive you around town for two or three hours. I am thankful we’ve got MTA (the Metro Transit Authority) but it could be better.”

I’ve recently learned other things about public transportation for people with disabilities. In Nashville, you have to schedule your trips 24 hours in advance. If you want to be sure you are somewhere close to the time you are expecting to be there, you probably need to be ready to go an hour to an hour and a half ahead of time.

If the destination is outside the county that you live in, you may not have a way to get there, depending on the transportation agency. If you want to go out somewhere and stay late or you will need to get home late in the evening, you may have great difficulties scheduling a ride, if at all.

Tennessee is now an Employment First state, which means employment in an integrated, competitive work environment is the first and preferred outcome for working-age youth and adults with disabilities, including those with complex and significant disabilities, for whom working in the past has been limited, or has not traditionally occurred.

Current policies and practices of accessible public transportation may be limiting the chances of many people of getting a job and keeping that job. Many employers are likely to find it difficult to allow employees to show up an hour and a half late on a regular basis. And some employers may be uncomfortable with an employee having to wait outside their business for up to an hour and a half to be picked up.

Some additional barriers that have been identified by individuals and families across Tennessee:

  • Limited transportation options in some areas of the state.
  • Services provided by community action agencies, which prioritize transportation to medical appointments, can be unreliable.
  • Geographic restrictions, service hours, eligibility processes, and fixed routes may rule out many job opportunities.
  • Costs may be too high for a regular commute for individuals living near or below the poverty line.

If you have suggestions on how we can improve transportation for individuals with disabilities, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

If you aren’t familiar with your local transportation agency, you can go to Disability Pathfinder, click on Search Community Resources, use the menu to select Transportation, select your county, and hit search.

2 Comments

  • anonomys says:

    My adult son has used ETHRA for the past 2 years and we can tell some stories – late pick up, no pick up, cancel for no reason, no courtesy call as to why, left behind for hours, pick up at 6am for 8am arrival – the stories go on and on. He gets very frustrated and now has no ambition or desire to ride with them. Very discouraging transportation situation for our disabled.

    • Janet says:

      I’m very sorry to hear that your son has had similar difficulties. I’m hoping our state and local agencies can figure out how to make our transportation systems work for people with disabilities.

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