by Joan Willshire
I had a car accident around 5:30 one January evening close to my home in the North Loop in downtown Minneapolis. It was just a block away from the downtown post office, which is eight to 10 blocks from my condominium. I had hit a patch of ice and slid into a parked car. I certainly wasn’t going fast, but it was enough momentum to break the tie rod in my front end, which left me unable to steer my car. I was not hurt, thank goodness. But my car certainly was disabled, and not operational.
The police were called and we started the process of solving the problem of how I was going to get home! I am a person with a disability who uses a scooter to get around. I’ve often wondered to myself; What happens if I’m in a car accident, how on earth do I get home? The car gets towed but what about me? I even called a friend who has a van that is wheelchair accessible but she was unable to help because her van wasn’t available.
I told the police officer that I was going to have to scooter it home. He didn’t like that idea but there were no other options. It was one of those cold January nights too. I had a bag full of scarves and hats in my car. Unfortunately, I had just taken the blanket out of my car because it had gotten dirty. Lesson learned here is just leave the dirty blanket in the car next time. The good news was that one of the officers colleagues drove by and dropped off a blanket from his car along with two handwarmers, so I bundled up and off I went driving down 1st Street North. The police officer followed me with his lights flashing. What a sight that had to have been! Is it a parade or what?!
My point is that there was no one for either me or the police officer to call to help me get home.
As a result of my car accident, and not having a vehicle, I am now forced to use a taxi service called Airport Taxi to get to any medical and business appointments I may have. This taxi company owns accessible taxi cabs. This has literally become a nightmare for me because they have a shortage in the number of accessible vehicles. When I call for a ride to pick me up with one of the wheelchair accessible vans with built-in for accessibility, it takes at least an hour to an hour and a half for an accessible vehicle to arrive to pick me up for an appointment. Same thing happens for the return visit. And one day they didn’t even bother to show up at all! It’s a highly unreliable system that just does not have enough accessible vehicles available.
Time limits are also a problem. On the night of a the car accident, there was no option to call Airport Taxi because they don’t have accessible vehicles running at that time of night. I couldn’t call Metro Mobility because they require four-day lead time to schedule a ride. There’s no bus service either in this area. I’m just lucky that I was relatively close to my condominium.
The good news is it all worked out ok for me. But nobody should be left stranded like this — ever. Not only was it very chilly out, but it was in the evening. The accident happened at 5:30 pm and I did not get home until 8:30 that night.
Emergency transportation needs to be available for instances like this situation and many others. Law enforcement for both citywide and statewide emergencies need to have access to accessible transportation for an individual who just needs a safe, accessible ride home.
Minnesota has always been known nationally as a leader regarding disability issues. However, I must say in regard to transportation we are not anywhere near where we should be. We need to be able to access on-demand networks for safe and accessible transportation.
Statewide, we are losing volunteer drivers. There are driver shortages in the Metro Transit system, as well as for taxis and accessible vehicle services statewide. And of course, transportation network companies like Ubers and Lyfts are not wheelchair-accessible either. We have lost accessible taxi services in the Twin Cities as taxi services close.
Minnesotans with disabilities are literally getting nowhere as a result of the inaccessible transportation system.
More funding needs to go toward transportation, specifically for people with disabilities and seniors and veterans with disabilities. Grant funds are needed for taxi cab drivers and for transportation network companies, so they can afford to make their vehicles accessible. This is especially important when we have a $17 billion state surplus. And of course, these drivers need to be paid more as well. Metro Mobility needs additional funds to be able to expand its reach within the metropolitan area, too.
This needs to be addressed as an equity issue for people with disabilities as it covers all socio-economic demographic areas statewide. We are losing ground and are at a crossroads regarding these transportation issues. We need to get back on track and back on the road safely, timely, and with full accessibility.
Can anyone say autonomous vehicle? That is absolutely where we need to be putting our time, energy and money to get the transportation services that we need in Minnesota.
Editor’s note: Joan Willshire is president of Willshire Consulting, a disability inclusion company, and former executive director of the Minnesota Council on Disability.