Riverside County’s public transportation system falls short of meeting the needs of seniors and the disabled, and more federal funding is needed to address inadequacies, according to a report released today by an Inland Empire congressman.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, commissioned “Public Transportation in Riverside County: How to Break Down Barriers to Access for the Disabled and Elderly.”
Among the key findings of the study: more than two-thirds of area seniors face “poor transit access,” and people with disabilities are more than “twice as likely as those without disabilities to have inadequate transportation.”
Takano’s office looked specifically at the Riverside Transit Agency, which services most of Riverside County, with routes extending from downtown Riverside east to Thousand Palms and south to Temecula.
According to Takano, RTA saw its bus boardings increase 3.5 percent last year to a record 9.57 million — about a third of which were riders paying senior and disabled fares.
Takano’s study found that for seniors and the disabled who reside in communities not immediately adjacent to metropolitan areas, access to public transportation can pose a particular challenge — and drive up costs.
According to the congressman, “lack of access to public transportation for lower-income families, seniors and (the) disabled is … a major contributor to health disparities.” He noted that people on limited incomes can end up spending a disproportionately higher amount of their budgets just to reach doctors’ offices and hospitals when they live in areas where public transportation is not readily accessible.
“More money is spent on transit costs, meaning there is less money for healthcare expenses,” he said.
Despite progress since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted 24 years ago, many transit vehicles, bus stops and train stops are still not disability-friendly, increasing burdens on individuals already physically challenged, according to the report.
“To address access for those individuals unable to use public transportation, the ADA requires that para-transit, door-to-door shared ride services are provided,” the report states. “Para-transit use has increased significantly, but restrictive eligibility criteria, trip denials, tardiness or failure to show, lack of training for drivers and inaccurate information are all barriers for disabled individuals using this service.”
To better accommodate the area’s senior and disabled populations, the report calls for:
— restoring federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century
funding to 2012 levels or higher;
— incentivizing projects that focus on placing senior and low-income
residential developments nearer to public transit;
— expanding the Recruiting Individuals to Drive our Elders (RIDE) Act,
so that people who voluntarily transport Medicaid beneficiaries to and from
medical appointments receive full reimbursement for their trips — going both
— requiring that future transportation projects slated to receive
federal funding follow guidelines that ensure the needs of ”all roadway users,
including the disabled and the elderly” are considered.
“By implementing several of the policy recommendations in my report, we can begin to increase access for those who need public transportation the most,” Takano said.