For people with disabilities, transportation remains a significant barrier to participating in the community, according to a 2012 report by the National Council on Disability.
With a high demand for transportation services for people with disabilities, it is not surprising that the U.S. Census Industry Series identified accessible transportation as a growth industry in 2012, with employment in the sector up 25.3 percent and revenues up by 31.5 percent from 2007.
According to the census study, 2,794 businesses were providing transportation for people with disabilities in 2012, and these businesses employed 62,221 people, generating revenues of $3.6 billion.
But in Santa Fe, private transportation services for people using wheelchairs are limited.
According to a dispatcher at Capital City Cab, the company doesn’t have vehicles equipped to pick up someone using a power wheelchair. And Uber, a ride service alternative to traditional taxi service, does not list any wheelchair-accessible vehicles for the Santa Fe area.
According to a Wired magazine article published last August, “Uber’s Business Isn’t Built to Help Disabled People,” Uber drivers nationwide are refusing to pick up disabled passengers who use wheelchairs or those traveling with service animals.
Uber drivers are private contractors who find customers seeking a ride through the company’s smartphone app, and Uber argues that it cannot mandate that its contracted drivers use accessible vehicles.
Nonetheless, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act applies to almost all providers of transportation service, whether private or public. And in February 2015, the U.S. Justice Department intervened in a lawsuit that the National Federation of the Blind filed against Uber, accusing the company of violating the ADA.
According to the Wired article, Uber has taken steps to begin accommodating passengers with disabilities. It has started training drivers in select cities to accommodate such passengers, and it is contracting with accessible transportation providers in some cities — although at a higher cost than a typical fare.
Uber’s general manager, Marco McCottry, reported in the online Texas Tribune on July 28, 2015, that the company is starting an accessible transportation service in Austin, Texas, through UberACCESS, a new smartphone application.
McCottry reported that similar accessible transportation services are already in place in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia and Portland.
“Transportation to the disability community remains a challenge, and we really think this is a step in the right direction,” McCottry said in the Tribune article.
“The thing to remember is this is by no means a silver-bullet solution. Ride sharing is still very new. We’re exploring,” McCottry said.
Santa Fe-area residents with disabilities do have public transportation options. Santa Fe Ride, operated by the city of Santa Fe, and Santa Fe County’s senior transportation services provide accessible transportation.
According to a vehicle dispatch specialist with the city transportation department, passengers must register 21 days in advance for approval to use the city service. On-demand pickup may be requested, although 24- to 48-hour notice is suggested.
Santa Fe Ride service is provided during the same days and hours of operation of the city’s fixed-route bus service.
Jim Parker of Santa Fe, who uses a power wheelchair, said, “Overall, my experience with Santa Fe Ride has been good.”
There are also accessible buses available from the North Central Regional Transit District throughout Northern New Mexico — even to the Santa Fe and Taos ski basins.
Jim Nagle, a spokesman for the North Central Regional Transit District, said, “There are three weekday round trips and seven round trips on the weekends to Ski Santa Fe. All buses are equipped with lifts and have tie downs for wheelchairs.”
Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center, 800-949-4232. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get a ride
• The city of Santa Fe bus service schedules are listed on at www.santafenm.gov/route_maps_and_schedules.
• To schedule a ride with Santa Fe County senior services, call 992-3069.
• More information on routes and schedules can be found on the North Central Regional Transit District website, www.ncrtd.org.