Why buses can’t get wheelchair users to most areas of cities

New publication: Liu, L., Kar, A., Tokey, A. Le, H.T.K. and Miller, H.J. (2023) “Disparities in public transit accessibility and usage by people with mobility disabilities: An evaluation using high-resolution transit data,” Journal of Transport Geography, 109, 103589.

Abstract: Many people with mobility disabilities (PwMD) rely on public transit to access crucial resources and maintain social interactions. However, they face higher barriers to accessing and using public transit, leading to disparities between people with and without mobility disabilities. In this paper, we use high-resolution public transit real-time vehicle data, passenger count data, and paratransit usage data from 2018 to 2021 to estimate and compare transit accessibility and usage of people with and without mobility disabilities. We find large disparities in powered and manual wheelchair users’ accessibility relative to people without disabilities. The city center has the highest accessibility and ridership, as well as the highest disparities in accessibility. Our scenario analysis illustrates the impacts of sidewalks on accessibility disparities among the different groups. We also find that PwMD using fixed-route service are more sensitive to weather conditions and tend to ride transit in the middle of the day rather than during peak hours. Further, the spatial pattern of bus stop usage by PwMD is different than people without disabilities, suggesting their destination choices can be driven by access concerns. During the COVID-19 pandemic, accessibility disparities increased in 2020, and PwMD disproportionately avoided public transit during 2020 but used it disproportionately more during 2021 compared to riders without disabilities. This paper is the first to examine PwMD’s transit experience with large high-resolution datasets and holistic analysis incorporating both accessibility and usage. The results fill in these imperative scientific gaps and provide valuable insights for future transit planning.