T4America Blog

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Guest post: public transit made accessible in Mississippi’s capital city

13 May 2010 | Posted by | 0 Comments | ,

Scott CrawfordIn the midst of discouraging news coming from hundreds of transit agencies across the country facing difficult choices in the midst of budget crises (see our map), we bring some encouraging news from Mississippi, and an update to a story we’ve covered previously. This post was written by T4 America supporter and friend Dr. Scott Crawford, who we’ve periodically been in contact with about incomplete streets and the state of public transportation in Jackson, Mississippi. (Read more about Dr. Crawford and Jackson.)

Our congratulations go out to Dr. Crawford — a true hero for Jackson.

For years, the capital of Mississippi ran a public transit system that was largely inaccessible to people with disabilities. Fixed route buses routinely ran without working wheelchair lifts and the complementary paratransit vans were booked up at least a week in advance. The system was slowly allowed to deteriorate as the existing fleet aged and became unreliable for even able-bodied people.

Three years ago, a group of people with disabilities in the Jackson metro area began a movement to change things. When phone calls and letters failed to make an impression or a difference, we protested outside city hall, forcing the city to appoint an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance officer. That was just the beginning. As lead plaintiff in the case and a wheelchair user myself with multiple sclerosis, I photographically documented countless times I was left on the side of the road by non-working bus lifts.

Bus Lift Failure Originally uploaded by Transportation for America
Dewone Banks waves goodbye to a bus operator who is forced to leave him after his lift fails to work. The bus was more than a decade old. Photo by Scott Crawford

After sending complaints to the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Civil Rights and seeing little in the way of progress, in September 2008, Disability Rights Mississippi filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of myself and others. Not for money, but for compliance with the ADA. In the summer of 2009, the Federal Department of Justice’s Section on Disability Rights got involved and intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs and joined the lawsuit. The City threatened to shut down JATRAN altogether and serve no one rather than comply with the equity requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They eventually relented at the last possible minute at the urging of the plaintiffs and the Department of Justice.

Stranded at night Originally uploaded by Transportation for America
The author is stranded into the night (December 10th, 2007) after three buses failed to pick him up. After about six hours, the police from a neighboring jurisdiction loaded him into a pickup truck to get him home (about 10:30pm). Credit photo to Scott Crawford

More than two years later, Jackson’s Public Transit (JATRAN) has eight new paratransit buses to take people with disabilities to their doctor’s appointments, shopping centers, and jobs.  In addition, there are now thirteen brand new regular fixed route buses with reliable ramps and lifts so that people in wheelchairs will no longer be forced to watch others board while they are left stranded on the side of the road.

I was on a bus several weeks ago when I met an older woman in a power wheelchair. She asked me if I rode the buses frequently, and I told her, “All the time!” The woman replied, “This is my first time — they never used to pick me up.” She added that she was so happy to be out of her apartment and going places again. “I want to get an all-day pass and just ride!”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978).

New Paratransit Buses Originally uploaded by Transportation for America
Dr. Scott Crawford tests out the lift on a new paratransit bus for JATRAN in Jackson, Mississippi.