The promise of new rides for Texans with disabilities

Photo by Brandon Formby

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD), a statewide cross-disability organization, is extremely interested in accessible transportation options, including the bullet train project, Transportation Networking Companies (TNCs) with a real accessibility program, and autonomous vehicles, all issues before the 85th Legislature in some form.

Opportunities to shift an industry paradigm don’t come often yet can greatly impact the economic environment for people with disabilities.

As policymakers discuss such important issues as how best to address integrating the fast-paced growth of technology in our state’s transportation system, it is vital that they take into consideration the needs of Texans with disabilities.

Why should accessibility be a top priority of Texas leaders in the debate over high-speed trains, autonomous vehicles, and TNCs? Simply put, creating transportation equity allows all Texans greater access to employment, education, and upward economic mobility. This can better our communities, support independent living, and, yes, empower more taxpayers to support infrastructure changes and address our state’s needs.

People with disabilities are the adult demographic group least likely to have a driver's license or own a car. Moreover, CTD has heard many negative anecdotal accounts related to the two most common long-distance carriers: airplanes and long-distance buses. Damages to wheelchairs and other mobility equipment and dysfunctional lifts are two prominent barriers that people with disabilities cite when traveling.

High-speed trains have huge accessibility advantages over these alternatives. First, they begin with a blank slate — an opportunity to design from the ground up with principles of universal design. That means the whole experience is accessible: booking a ticket, navigating the station, freely and independently embarking and disembarking the train, not being separated from one’s wheelchair or mobility device, freely navigating the train car, and accessing the restrooms without assistance while in transit. That is game-changing.

Similarly, TNCs can bring independence and opportunities to many who have had to depend on inefficient modes of para-transit that often have to be booked three days out. That’s why we promote inclusive ride sharing services with wheelchair accessible vehicle options and trained employees that recognize and invite riders with service animals, as well as one convenient, on-demand app for all users. This will create much-needed local transportation equity and, coincidentally, larger markets for TNC companies.

Let’s not forget autonomous cars! For many with disabilities who haven’t been able to drive, the independence to travel freely without reliance on others is akin to the first time an able-bodied youth gets a driver’s license — remember that sense of freedom? Self-driving cars would also serve our aging population, allowing seniors the ability to stay safe and independent instead of turning over the keys to their car.

We believe there is a place for all the proposed array of new transportation options available to Texans. We'd like to see the train, along with a truly accessible TNC platform, and autonomous vehicles move forward in an "all-of-the-above" approach to addressing transportation needs of all Texans.

Chase Bearden

Deputy executive director, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities