TRANSPORTATION, ADVOCACY AND COALITION BUILDING

IN THE CAPITAL DISTRICT

By: Donna Suhor, Chair Person, CDCAT

And

Clifton Perez, M.S.W.

Systems Advocate

 

 

The Capital District Coalition for Accessible Transportation (CDCAT) began in May of 2002.  We are comprised of various agencies such as ILCHV, CDCI, Center for the Disabled, Center for Disability Rights and more as well as independent advocates from the disabled community, most of which who rely on accessible transportation for their independence, employment and quality of life.  Our goals are for equal, safe, accessible and affordable transportation, especially public transit, and accessible taxis for those of us with disabilities, living within the Capital Region.

 

When we began, over a year ago, we knew transportation would be a formidable and momentous undertaking.  Further back than many of us can recall, transportation in the Capital Region has been woefully inadequate.  We began our exploration of systemic change with paratransit – STAR (Transportation for people with disabilities who are unable to access the fixed-route bus system).  Due to the fact that accessible transportation had never been a reality in the lives of people with certain disabilities, many never even contemplated the idea of systemic change.  Numerous people with disabilities were simply afraid to ‘rock the boat’, if they complained, they would lose even the bad service they had. Many people did not realize that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provides constructive regulations for transportation services.  Due to advocacy organizations such as Independent Living Centers, large numbers of people with disabilities began to organize and to fight for our rights.  Today, this battle continues with the formation of the Capital District Coalition for Accessible Transportation, it continues with - us! 

 

As we embarked on this path of “change”, many people told us that the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) would not be amenable to change. The newly formed Coalition began board meetings, planning, researching and asking questions to the public about problems and issues.  The Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV) supported our meetings and offered us access to; office equipment and the use of their Conference Room for our monthly meetings,  ILCHV also paid our fee for becoming members of the Council of Community Services of NYS, Inc. (CCSNYS).  As we began to solicit public input, the reoccurring message seemed to be that the transportation issues were getting worse.  Indeed, positive change is needed! 

 

We began by writing letters to CDTA, which then progressed to scheduled meetings to address transportation issues.  A few months after the Coalition was organized, a new director was hired by CDTA.  We viewed this change with possibilities. With that positive expectation, we made contact with him and established a dialogue, which developed into regular meetings between CDTA and CDCAT.  As a result of our dialogue, CDCAT has been instrumental in the development of procedures in order to take action on behalf of consumers/customers in need of assistance when experiencing transportation difficulties.  The following illustrates some of these procedures, as well as substantive systemic changes made possible by our efforts toward establishing ongoing communication with CDTA and the community.

 

v     We have community meetings every other month, which provides an opportunity for individuals to inform us on the prevailing transportation problems;

v     Our call line is open daily so when we are contacted by customers experiencing transportation issues requiring intervention, we are able to immediately contact CDTA and successfully advocate for the customer.

v     We have begun to assist people with STAR paratransit applications and with appeals.

v     One can now more easily obtain paratransit applications as well as the Paratransit guide booklet and any paratransit rules in accessible format.  We fought hard for this all summer.

v     In February of 2003, CDTA invited us to participate in their Strategic Development Program, a 2 day workshop in Saratoga and CDTA provided transportation and covered all expenses for our vice chairperson, Ed Rich.

v     When CDTA began selling their Swipers on their website, we encouraged them to also offer STAR ticket books and reduced-fare Swipers as well.

v     CDTA has requested our assistance in designing a more accessible website and has asked us to give feedback on what should be in the next revision of the STAR paratransit applications.

v     We have begun to produce and distribute flyers and other informative materials, such as a guide to apply for STAR services and a guide for professionals filling out STAR verification forms. 

v     Next day service is no longer scoffed at by dispatchers, not after Rochester successfully sued their transportation authority and after we brought up next day service at our first meeting with CDTA.

v     This is the first year that paratransit users could go to the Schaghticoke and Altamont fairs via STAR.

v     Efforts are finally truly being made to improve calling out stops for people with visual disabilities.  We are INSISTING that CDTA make sure that there is a system in place that calls out streets and destinations whether it’s a driver or automated audio and visual display.

v     In December 2002 we assisted the City of Albany with keeping First Night accessible to all, including people who require buses with lifts.  Together with representatives from the Capital District Center for Independence (CDCI) and the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV), we continued our dialogue with the City of Albany, met with their Special Event’s office, and discussed how to keep City events accessible, meeting ADA requirements.

v     We have been fortunate to have some of our Board Members be interviewed by some local publications such as; Metroland, the Times Union and the Gazette.

v     We drafted a paper for the area’s transportation metropolitan planning organization; the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC).  Their draft of “New Visions for a Quality Region” barely addressed difficulties experienced by people with disabilities.  Due to this oversight, we provided them with a 10 page response on what effects OUR quality of life in the Capital Region.

v     We participated jointly with the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley Inc. (ILCHV) in the NYS Assembly’s Disabilities Awareness Day where we distributed information on our coalition, along with other useful information on the Capital District’s transportation system.

v     We met with Medical Transportation Management’s (MTM), the Medicaid transportation provider for Albany County.  We intend to also meet with CDTA’s Access Transit that provides for Medicaid transportation in Rensselaer County.

v     We have also made ourselves available to provide free training for customers and organizations.  Due to our availability, we were invited to speak at a Center for the Disabled’s case coordinators meeting on STAR including some history on paratransit and customer rights. 

v     Since taxi issues, regarding their lack of accessibility for wheelchair users, have continued to be a problem, we have begun the formation of an Accessible Taxi subcommittee to address the lack of wheelchair accessibility, particularly for people who are unable to transfer from a wheelchair to a seat.

v     In November 2003, Marsha Chase, Superintendent of Flexible Services, from CDTA joins the Accessible Taxi subcommittee citing that accessible taxis can be beneficial to all.

 

            That’s a long list – but far from complete - of successes and a lot of hard work. However, we’re committed to achieving change.  We have made a lot of progress and when considering the support we have received from the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV), along with the Capital District Center for Independence (CDCI), we expect to make even more inroads within the coming years.  Our chairperson, Donna Suhor, participates in the New York State Independent Living Council(NYSILC) Transportation subcommittee and In May of 2003, received the Ed Roberts Advocacy Award at CDCI for transportation advocacy efforts.

 

            Interested in hearing more? Our next community meeting is January 28, 2004 from 6:30pm – 8:00pm at the Albany Public Library; 161 Washington Ave, Albany, NY. If you have issues you wish to address, need help with applying or with an appeal for STAR or want to volunteer your time to assist us, we welcome your call. We can be reached at (518) 273-1110. Have a computer? Check out our website at http://www.mobilityfreedom.org