It’s not the bus that’s inaccessible

Imagine you could travel to only 1% of the city where you live – areas that were easily accessible to other residents. The main problem is it’s not the bus system itself that’s inaccessible. It’s all the infrastructure around it such as footpaths and kerb ramps. That’s the claim by researchers in Columbus, Ohio.

“People with mobility disabilities need to get to and from bus stops to use public transportation, and that isn’t easy in many parts of the city.”

The roadway is marked with the words "bus stop" in yellow lettering.

The study of wheelchair users who rely on public transport, found that powered wheelchair users were a little better off than manual users. The researchers used high-resolution, real-time data on the usage of buses by people with and without disabilities.

In one analysis, the researchers found how many of the bus stops could get users to various places in the city within 30 minutes. Manual wheelchair users had 75% fewer bus stops they could use compared with non-disabled users. For powered wheelchair users, they experienced 59% fewer stops. Even when they gave them more time to complete the journey, it was little better. That means wheelchair users are confined to self-segregated parts of the city.

Public transit is not a business, it is not just a social service.  It is crucial urban infrastructure and footpaths are part of that.

Ohio Theatre facade showing a level footpath and kerb ramp for the crossing. It isn't the bus that's inaccessible.

The title of the article is, Why buses can’t get wheelchair users to most areas of cities. It was published on the website.

The research paper is titled, Disparities in public transit accessibility and usage by people with mobility disabilities. You will need institutional access for a free read.


Many people with mobility disabilities (PwMD) rely on public transit to access crucial resources and maintain social interactions. However, they face higher barriers to accessing and using public transit, leading to disparities between people with and without mobility disabilities.

In this paper, we use high-resolution public transit real-time vehicle data, passenger count data, and paratransit usage data from 2018 to 2021 to estimate and compare transit accessibility and usage of people with and without mobility disabilities. We find large disparities in powered and manual wheelchair users’ accessibility relative to people without disabilities.

The city center has the highest accessibility and ridership, as well as the highest disparities in accessibility. Our scenario analysis illustrates the impacts of sidewalks on accessibility disparities among the different groups. We also find that PwMD using fixed-route service are more sensitive to weather conditions and tend to ride transit in the middle of the day rather than during peak hours.

Further, the spatial pattern of bus stop usage by PwMD is different than people without disabilities, suggesting their destination choices can be driven by access concerns. During the COVID-19 pandemic, accessibility disparities increased in 2020, and PwMD disproportionately avoided public transit during 2020, but used it disproportionately more during 2021 compared to riders without disabilities.

This paper is the first to examine PwMD’s transit experience with large high-resolution datasets and holistic analysis incorporating both accessibility and usage. The results fill in these imperative scientific gaps and provide valuable insights for future transit planning.

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