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Is public transportation really for the public?

Celia Levy's picture

Over spring break, my mother, grandmother, and I visited London. In this major metropolis, many commuters navigate the city via red-double decker buses, underground trains, or by foot. When my mom and I have traveled in the past we rely on these forms of public transportation, or we walk to our destination.  On this trip we have navigated the city differently, primarily riding in Ubers or taxis to get around. We switched our mode of travel because most of London’s public transportation is not accessible for people with decreased mobility.  

 As my grandmother has aged her range of motion has declined; however, her passion for travel is steadfast. We entered the city believing that we would be able to rely on public transportation to get around. However, we were sorely mistaken.

 Most of the Underground stations, London’s subway system, have multiple flights of stairs to descend towards the trains. While this would be fine, few stations have elevators or escalators. When we have found starting stations with these amenities - I intentionally use this term, because in this scenario it seems that accessibility is not a right but a privilege – our destination only has stairs. To get on the buses, travelers must also take a big step without a railing or post to grab onto. These gaps in the public transportation system do not account for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, or canes. Instead, these commuters must drive to get around. This is a massive economic barrier.  Public transportation is considered an affordable and therefore accessible option. However, when it is not available to everyone, we cannot claim that it is equitable.


kyhong's picture

I also noticed the inaccessibility of public transportation during my spring break. During the break, I visited college friends at the University of Maryland and NYU, and since I don't own a car nor know how to drive, I heavily relied on public transportation (big fan of trains!). I saw a drastic difference between the D.C. Metro and NYC subway systems. For instance, the Metro was spacious and had ample accessible seating that was clearly marked. The signs and maps were clear; overall, I was happy with my experience.
NYC was quite the opposite. At least for me, the signs and maps were so confusing, and I was lucky that my friend knew which trains to take and when to transfer. Otherwise, I probably would have been very lost. Also, the subway was so packed at certain times with people squishing so tightly together that it must have been a health hazard. Had I experienced that any longer, I probably would have started panicking. In addition, many stops did not have accessible entrances and exits, meaning that disabled people would have to make extra stops just to leave a station. Sure, the subway came more often (about every 10 minutes compared to the half hour for D.C.), but it didn't improve my subway experience.
However, that's not to say that the D.C. Metro is not without flaws. For instance, one of my friends started to get rather nauseous due to the movement of the Metro, and the movement of the train was quite noticeable and had sudden stopping and going. As such, I was wondering what would be some ways to increase the comfort of passengers? After all, accessibility isn't achieved by doing the bare minimum of having a seat designed for wheelchair users. Public transportation should also maximize the comfort of all passengers.