Springville Journal

Every day is a blizzard for many in our community who rely on public transportation

The following is a guest article from Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns.

As we continue to recover from the December 2022 blizzard, we’ve all read stories about people being trapped and unable to leave their homes due extreme weather and the lack of plowed roads and bridges, as well as shoveled sidewalks and bus stops. Many in the community experienced feelings of anxiety, worrying about loved ones, access to food and inability to get to work and medical appointments. We know based on reporting, that horrifically too many have lost their lives.

Imagine if the blizzard never ended, or imagine that the blizzard made transportation impossible for the places you needed to go, and never stopped.  

As ridiculous as this example might sound, these conditions are an everyday reality for marginalized communities, including the disabled, immigrant, rural and Black and Brown communities – with or without snow.

In 1990, the historic Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to create access and equality for our fellow citizens with disabilities and it created a system for those who couldn’t use buses called “paratransit.” For paratransit advocates like Stephanie Speaker, that minimum standard has never been sufficient to fulfill the needs of the disabled community.

The ADA sets a minimum standard of less than a mile on each side of a route for paratransit, and limits times to the same as is served by the fixed route buses in the neighborhood. That leaves a lot of WNY out of reach for paratransit users, and even more on nights, weekends and holidays, when standard bus service is even more limited.

In the last five years, the Erie County Clerk’s Office has collected over $100 million from mortgage tax revenue from residential and commercial purchases and sent it to the NFTA for public use. Despite the influx of these funds, transportation does not serve the needs of many in our community.

This storm, once again, highlighted the historic inequities in transportation in Western New York. As we talk about changing policies to address these inequities, the public has an opportunity to weigh in on these issues. The Erie County Clerk’s Office and the Western New York Law Center have partnered with Columbia Law School, and other not-for-profits, to launch a survey that would provide feedback to the NFTA regarding people’s experience with paratransit and public transportation. This survey can be accessed at rateyourridewny.com. Your comments can help lift the “travel bans” for persons with disabilities caused by regulation rather than snow.

As Martin Luther King said, “We are faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late’.”

We need to address the public transportation needs of our community now.

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