Last updated on April 30, 2020
The accessibility of public transportation has been one of the many forefront issues in the fight for equality among disabled and abled bodies. The most revolutionary change to the accessibility landscape within public transportation was led by the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Prior to this legislation, all forms of public transportation were designed with only the able bodied in mind. During the pre-ADA period, buses and trains did not have ramps or accessible seating. The first transit system to become wheelchair accessible in the United States was the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco,California in 1964. Inspired by the work being done by the BART system, California became the first state to pass a transportation redesign act, Urban Mass Transportation Act 1964 which required all public transit vehicles to have wheelchair lifts. The rest of the transit systems across the United States did not see change till the ADA. Pictured below is a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority 1970 bus, which does not have any accessible features. The ADA was truly a landmark civil rights act which explicitly expressed certain elements and parameters public transportation facilities must adhere by.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, better known as SEPTA operates the public transit sector for the city of Philadelphia. SEPTA has 80 accessible stations out of their total of 171. Stations are considered accessible if they offer wheelchair accessible entrances. There are 95 elevators spread throughout the 80 accessible stations SEPTA has busses, trolleys and a rail system which comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA states that all public transportation vehicles must have the following features, wheelchair ramps/lifts with securement devices, slip resistant floors with platform gap signals, audible door closing indicators, priority seating, handrails, stop requests, public information system for stops with audio and digital message and signs for destinations and routes. In addition to the basic requirements from the ADA, SEPTA offers route identifier kits to assist passengers who are visually impaired and stop assistance cards. The route identifier kits consist of a holder for displaying the bus route number the passenger wishes to ride, the numbers are available in large font and braille. The stop assistance cards request the help of SEPTA employees to ensure that the passenger is on the right route/getting off at the correct stop. SEPTA also offers programs like bus familiarization and travel practice. These programs allow SEPTA staff members to assist riders during a trial run of their transit route so they get accustomed to it.
Transit relating to travel to and throughout Saint Joseph’s University’s campus consists of the SEPTA rail systems, buses, the university operated shuttle service and public safety escorts.
One of the most common methods of transportation to SJU is SEPTA rail services. If taking the train to SJU the closest station is the Overbrook station which according to the SEPTA transit map is labeled as an accessible station.
The station is only equipped with 2 wheelchair accessible ramps accessing the eastbound and westbound entrances of the station. Overbrook station has a tunnel that runs under the rail tracks connecting the east and west bound entrances. The tunnel can only be entered via the stairwells at entrances. There is no elevator or ramp leading to the tunnel. In order to travel from one entrance to the other, riders who cannot access the stair must make their way to the opposite entrance by the City Ave sidewalk.
There are multiple forms of transportation from Overbrook station to Saint Joseph’s University. The most accessible method is utilizing the SEPTA busses that operate from Overbrook station and have multiple stops across SJU’s campus. The busses are equipped with all of the features described earlier. The University sponsored transit which included the shuttle and public safety escorts are not accessible. The shuttle which provides services from the City Ave Target to 63rd street with stops throughout campus are standard school buses. The shuttle buses do not have a wheelchair lift or ramp. Public Safety escorts offer travel around SJU’s campus and throughout the surrounding neighborhood. According to our interview with the Office of Public Safety the vehicles utilized for the escorts are 10 person vans and Ford Escapes and neither have a wheelchair lift or ramp. However, according to the SJU Office of Disability website students who have a disability are to receive transportation via Public Safety escorts despite public safety vehicles not being properly equipped.
The drastic difference between accessibility within SEPTA and Saint Joseph’s University transportation methods shows that there is still a lot of room for improvement. Despite the mass progress spearheaded by the ADA, there are still many barriers remaining. Aimi Hamraie, author of “Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disabilities” speaks to what still needs to be done after the ADA “The post-ADA narrative misses the point that the built world is inseparable from social attitudes and discriminatory systems. The narrative dictates that accessible design is self evident, common sense.” According to a report from National Council on Disability, there are select cities with problems including fixed-route bus transportation with inoperable lifts and ramps, false claims of broken lifts/ramps to avoid boarding a person with a disability, and many others. Issues like these are what continue to spark to the advocacy for equality which breaks down barriers. To find out what you can do to help check out these advocacy groups: Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and American Association of People with Disabilities.
-Mariela Diaz, 2020
Header Image Credit: SEPTA