While widely spread throughout the city and a popular alternative to driving, public transportation in Phoenix has been criticized recently for its associated dangers to residents. However, the risks and limitations of the Phoenix public transportation systems are magnified for a particularly underrepresented community: people with disabilities. 

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Public transportation systems, including Valley Metro’s light rail and bus routes, work to make Phoenix a more connected urban setting. However, the reality for many citizens is that these systems favor those who are nondisabled. According to data collected in 2019 by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, only 3.7% of individuals with disabilities commuted to work utilizing public transportation in Maricopa County.  

Ava Lemke, a member of Arizona State University’s Accessibility Coalition and a board member for the Arizona Center for Disability Law, said some transportation services actually inhibit citizens with disabilities. 

“ASU shuttles don’t emit a verbal notification when the bus arrives at the destination,” said Lemke. “This can cause difficulty for people with low-vision or blindness. Additionally, the light rails have a fairly short window of entrance and exit before the doors close. I think this could be adjusted to be safer.” 

While traditional public transportation in Phoenix could be seen as not safe for people with disabilities, there are a variety of alternatives available. Dial-A-Ride, a shared ride service for people who meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, was expanded in 2016 to help provide service to Phoenix residents that struggle to use the current fixed route systems. 

Residents with the proper certifications can either call Dial-A-Ride and arrange a ride, or they can book trips directly online. However, this system is more expensive than the cost set by Valley Metro for local bus and light rail rides. While it costs $4 for a one-way ride on Dial-A-Ride, Valley Metro charges $2 for a single ride and $4 for a day pass. This discrepancy highlights the lack of accessibility experienced by Phoenix residents with disabilities. 

Peter Fischer, the former Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator for the City of Phoenix, said there are some alternative transit modes in need of improvement. 

“One of the significant challenges observed in ADA compliance is the inconsistency in implementation and enforcement,” said Fischer in an email interview. “While the ADA provides a comprehensive framework for ensuring accessibility and non-discrimination, the degree to which it is adhered to can vary.” 

Extending beyond city operations, rideshare companies like Lyft have accessibility commitments that mainly mention accommodations for wheelchair users and those with service animals. This limited scope fails to consider the wide range of mental and physical disabilities that limit access to transportation. 

Athena Garcia, a city resident living with a visual impairment, said her experience with public transportation and ride share services has been less than ideal.

“The only times I find it challenging is when the busses pass by us completely,” said Garcia. “Then you need to wait for an alternative, like Uber. I definitely wish drivers would call ahead of time, too, because I can’t really tell who’s in the car, and I don’t want to just get in.” 

The City of Phoenix has an Equal Opportunity Department that helps comply to the ADA and offer solutions to these accessibility issues. Garcia, who navigates the city with a visual impairment, said these public systems often do not account for the different ways in which people with disabilities experience transportation. 

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that all disabilities look the same, even though disability is a wide spectrum,” said Garcia. “And not everybody’s experiences are going to be the same, even if two people have the same diagnosis.”