(Kansas City, Mo. – July 20, 2015) What Rosa Parks meant for race equality in public transportation in 1955, the Americans with Disability Act meant for equality for disabled riders in public transportation 45 years later.
Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, President George H.W. Bush signed a sweeping law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.
It’s a historical moment that the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will recognize as part of a national celebration.
The law guaranteed equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, government services and telecommunications.
Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law changed the way the country treats roughly 37.6 million people with disabilities, whether that means building curb ramps, installing talking traffic signals, adding bus lifts or other measures.
In the aftermath of the law, access to public transportation for riders with disabilities improved dramatically. The percentage of buses accessible for riders with disabilities was at 51 percent in 1993, according to the American Public Transportation Association. By 2013, that number increased to 99.8 percent.
Kansas City buses are in full compliance with the law. The KCATA placed a premium on making its buses accessible even before it was enacted.
For instance in 1986, four years before the disabilities legislation was signed into law, the KCATA bought about 30 lift-equipped buses. Two years later, the KCATA acquired 69 more buses fitted with lifts. By the time Congress passed the disabilities law, a third of the KCATA’s fleet was already accessible for riders with disabilities.
Last year, there were about 20,000 wheelchair boardings on Metro buses, up from about 14,000 the year before.
Kansas City riders with disabilities also benefit from the KCATA’s Share-A-Fare program, a service required by the law that offers complementary paratransit service for riders who can’t independently use the bus.
So far this year, roughly 10,000 to 12,000 people have used Share-A-Fare, accounting for an estimated 138,000 trips. Overall, the KCATA saw 222,779 paratransit boardings last year related to the disabilities law.
Two years ago, the KCATA created the Share-A-Fare Advisory Committee to better address the concerns of riders with disabilities.
The 11-member panel’s top priorities for this year included establishing one regional process for determining who is eligible for Share-A-Fare services and developing a customer communications strategy.
The KCATA reaches out to help riders with disabilities in other ways.
It offers reduced farecard IDs so that riders with disabilities pay half of the base $1.50 fare on Metro and MAX buses and also half of the $50 bus passes. In the last three years, the KCATA has issued about 7,300 reduced farecards to riders with disabilities.