Tuesday, March 20, 2007

London's routemasters -- icon or inaccessible dinosaurs?

This article on London's familiar Routemaster buses prompts a good question: When does an icon's historical status eclipse its need to be accessible to everyone?The Routemaster is one of those enduring designs -- created 50 years ago and still around because of its functionality but perhaps even more so because of its uniqueness. The red double deckers say London. But time has marched on too and these buses, after all, are not amusement park rides; they're public transportation. For the most part, the Routemasters have been replaced, the article relates, with more accessible modern vehicles, in some cases still red and still double deckers but more accessible to all riders. Only 16 remaining Routemasters run on two routes. Some advocates for people with disabilities in the UK say all the Routemasters should go, replaced with more accessible, albeit less quaint, vehicles. Others lament any of the replacement of Routemasters and want the few remaining to keep in service. Who's right?
It's not an easy question to answer. I can relate to the irrational adherence to what one knows and identifies with times gone by, which of course we know were always better than now. I'll offer an example. I live in Wisconsin, but I'm originally from the Chicago area. Consequently, I grew up with the Chicago-style hot dog stand. My impression of a real hot dog is pretty rigid. The right condiments -- tomato, pickle relish, onion, mustard, celery salt, pickle spear, sport peppers (no ketchup!). The right bun -- steamed with poppy seed. And the right fries -- cut from a fresh potato, skin on, soggy with grease and served wrapped up with the dog in one piece of paper. Several places do a good job on the dog around here, but the proper fries are elusive, and it kinda ruins the Chicago style hot dog experience. It's just not authentic to my mind, even if many places present a -- shall I say -- healthier fry presentation. And I feel it strongly.
So it certainly seems reasonable that people might feel strongly about the Routemasters. Other red double deckers, even if more practical, more accessible, just aren't the same. But this argument just doesn't work for the buses for the plain reason they are public transportation. You can go to another hot dog stand, but you can't go to another public transit system, generally. The principal is well established that public transit ought to be accessible to as many as possible. London does appear to be doing more than many places to encourage accessibility in transit or the changes would not have taken place. That should be acknowledged, but keeping a few inaccessible buses running on a couple of key routes isn't in the spirit of maximum accessibility no matter how iconic the vehicles.
The article also addresses a key issue supporters of less accessibility are bound to make -- that riders with disabilities are small in number. Why is that? One reason is there is still far from universal accessibility on most transit systems. You've got to have the right station. You've got to have the right line. And in this case, you've got to catch the right kind of bus -- at least on those routes. Andrew Braddock, formerly head of access and mobility at Transport for London, nails it in the article when he says "the total number of wheelchair users is inevitably small... but the number of trips being made by this previously ignored group is growing all the time."
(Photo of Routemaster by Rudi Ashdown via morgueFile.com)

Monday, March 19, 2007

UK firm adds more accessible vehicles

Streamline and Local Taxis, a UK-based company, has added some more accessible vehicles to its fleet. They now have six out of a total fleet of 135. Good news to be sure, but doesn't it seem like accessible vehicles should be a higher percentage of the entire fleet? (Photo by Mary Thorman via morgueFile.com)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sharing around the Disability Studies Quarterly table

The current issue of Disability Studies Quarterly (subscription required) includes a cyber roundtable discussion on blogging and disability. Yours truly is one of the panelists, which also includes: Scott Rains (of The Rolling Rains Report Blog), Ruth Harrigan (of Wheelie Catholic), The Goldfish (of Diary of a Goldfish), Kay Olson / Blue (of The Gimp Parade), Alicia "Kestrell" Verlager (of The Blind Bookworm Blog), The Wheelchair Dancer (of Wheelchair Dancer), Emma Crees (of The Life and Times of Emma) and Stephen Kuusisto (of Planet of the Blind). It was an honor to be part of such a group. (Photo by Malinda Welte via morgueFile.com)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Long bus driving

A new commuter bus going into service in China bills itself as the largest in the world. It seats a some 300 passengers.
It also purports to be accessible, though the description sounds like to me it might be somewhat problematic. Says the Shanghai Daily: "It is easy for elderly and the disabled to enter as the first step is nearly level with the pavement. The bus also has room for wheelchairs."
So how close to level with the ground do you suppose nearly is?

Those with disabilites an important cruise niche

Cruise operators are looking to capture younger passengers as a way to secure their future. But Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, speaking at Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention in Miami Beach also acknowledged the importance of travelers with disabilities: "You've seen large shifts in our industry ... to an industry which is more and more focused on being able to satisfy not only the American public or whatever public we're talking about in general terms, but also demographically targeting specific groups," Fain said. (Photo by Michelle Schafer via morgueFile.com)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Disabled travel blogger profiled

Candy Harrington, author, magazine publisher, blogger and all around expert on travel for people with disabilities, is the subject of an extensive interview at Inside Bay Area. There's some really interesting background on how Harrington got started writing about disabled travel as well as some of her perspective on the subjects. Like this: "As the baby boomers age, tourism providers are becoming more sensitive to the needs of disabled travelers, so today there are a lot more choices. From accessible safaris and dive resorts to taxi tours and even balloon rides, there's something for just about everyone." Loads of tips too.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Poll: Foreign cruise ships should have to follow ADA like rules

The latest Get Around Guide poll closed recently. The results were decisive, if not overwhelming in numbers of responders. The question: Should foreign cruise ships operating in the US have to comply with ADA like regulations. Two thirds said yes. (Cruise ship photo by Mike Rash via morgueFile.com)

Cab troubles aired in Colorado

Ever wonder what is behind the apparent disincentive in the cab industry to better serve people with disabilities? Some possible explanations were aired at a recent public hearing in Colorado. In that state, anyway, the deal is pretty cozy for cab companies and it rewards taking longer, more lucrative fares to the extent that sometimes shorter or more work involved fares are simply ignored, some at the hearing asserted. "The cab companies have a great deal going," Ray Gifford, a former state Public Utilities Commission chairman, told the House transportation committee. "They get to take all the producer surplus from the drivers and they have an entry barrier to all new entrants" in the market, creating a virtual monopoly. A free market solution is usually the best. It seems like there should be demand out there for private transit that can accommodate people with disabilities (if they can get them to answer the call). But if the market isn't working then some government leverage is in order. A Yellow Cab exec defended the company's commitment to passengers with disabilities, stating that 5 percent of their fleet in Denver was accessible. Denver proper is a city of over half a million people. I'm thinking it's going to be pretty hard to get one of those accessible cabs to everyone that needs one on a given day, especially if demand is where it should be. (Photo by Mary Thorman via morgueFile.com)

More people with disabilities cruisin'

Jim Mullen, disabilities issues reporter for Chicago's CBS TV station filed this piece about more people with disabilities taking cruises. No hard stats -- this is from a TV news operation after all -- but some interesting anecdotes. And alas one unsatisfying fact, not at all the fault of Mullen. He closes with the observation that "unless you need a special room or special equipment such as a chair lift, prices are not much different from other cruises." Why should there be even a dime difference I ask? (Photo by Mike Rash via morgueFile.com)