5 Tips for a Smooth Ride: Disability and Public Transportation - The Mobility Resource

If you’re anything like me, getting out and about and experiencing all aspects of the community is top priority. After all, there’s so much to see and do, not to mention the infinite adventures waiting to be had. If you’re fortunate enough to have an accessible vehicle, this can be relatively easy. You just roll in, strap in, and go. Yet, for many, the reality of an accessible vehicle can be overly expensive and far beyond our individual price range.

For a long time, I was in this spot, and in my persistent determination to never spend a day watching life pass by from home, I learned a thing or two about how to make the most out of the public transit and the bus system in particular, to make the enhance my mobility. 

I can remember the first time I ventured onto a bus. It was my second year of college, and my martial arts school had moved from a quaint little corner on my university quad several miles up the road to a fitness facility that would still allow for access while having the comforts of being indoors. 

While I was not necessarily keen on the idea of having to travel further to participate, I was certainly not willing to forfeit going to class just because I had some hesitation about being on the buses. So, off I ventured and before long, not only was I going back and forth regularly to that class, I was exploring new parts of town I had never seen, discovering new opportunities to travel. And, though I relocated several times since, this exploration of the city’s I’ve lived in has never seemed cease.

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And if the same adventure beckons you, here are 5 key tips to making your travel smooth and easy sailing.

1) Plan ahead.

Buses and public transit in general can be tricky. No matter how large or small your town is, make sure that you plan connections well. Allowing enough time to board and de-board one bus or train for another is crucial in knowing both how long you need to get there and what time you need to allow mid-transit to ensure that you get where you want to head.

2) Pad your travel with extra time.

No matter how well you plan ahead and set your intention for your route, you will almost inevitably run into hurdles. Whether it is a broken lift or ramp on one of the buses or a non-functioning elevator at a subway stop, you will need to set aside extra time in your commute to negotiate and circumvent these obstacles. At times this may mean simply allowing the bus to pass and waiting for the next one to arrive. Or, in a case of accessing a subway or train station, it may mean allowing enough time for you to walk to the next accessible station and catching the intended connection from there.

3) Dress appropriately.

Just as you may need extra time to navigate unexpected obstacles, it is also important that you consider the current or impending weather. There have been many times where I’ve set out for a commute expecting to be at my destination well before any bad weather arises, and inevitably a bus lift breaks. I find myself waiting far longer than anticipated. Whether it’s an unanticipated thunderstorm or temperatures well above your expected comfort level, you need to be able to dress in a manner that will keep you comfortable and able to function no matter what may unexpectedly arise.

By the same token, there are bus or train stations that do not have covered areas, so in the event that weather really takes a turn for the worst, consider what shelters may be available around the stop where waiting that might be easy accessible for when the bus or train does arrive.

4) Be aware of your surroundings.

Not just in terms of the natural environment such as weather but also the other physical environments that you are in. Who is at the stop with you? What vibe do you get from them? Do you feel safe? Are there exits available to you in case you need to escape?

For more tips on safety, see 10 Tips for Personal Safety.

5) Have a back up plan.

While this is often a very last resort, it is also wise to have an emergency back up plan available to you in some form. Whether this means having the ability to call an accessible cab if you inadvertently miss the last bus, or if something just doesn’t feel right and you’d rather ask a friend for a lift, it’s always wise to consider a fall back plan. Of course, taxi’s may be expensive and few of us enjoy relying heavily on friends, yet, in a scenario where all other options are exhausted, it’s always reassuring that there is a fail safe option for you to call on.

In my experience, these five tips have not only allowed me to get around comfortably in my community, but they have also provided great peace of mind in terms of my ability to navigate obstacles and come up with contingency plans when necessary. I hope that as you embark on your own adventures, you can use these tips as a guidepost, adding to them and refining them as you see fit.


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