Therese McMillan, Acting Administrator
Federal Transit Administration
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
25th Anniversary of the ADA – Bethesda, MD
Remarks of Acting Administrator Therese McMillan
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Thank you for joining us today.
It's a pleasure to be here with our friends and colleagues from Montgomery County to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
America is a promise - a balance of rights and responsibilities.
And it works best when everyone can reach out and take hold of the opportunities it creates.
That's why public transportation is absolutely indispensable in this country, and why we work so hard to make it accessible, reliable, and safe.
For the past 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has helped us fulfill that promise.
Today, 99.8 % of public transit buses are accessible - as are more than 90% of heavy and light rail cars.
Every new rail station since 1990 has been built with accessibility in mind, and among older rail systems, 98% of "key stations" now meet that standard.
The stats are encouraging - and even more encouraging is the number of Americans whose lives have been made richer because of the ADA.
Let's be clear: that number includes EVERY American.
The same accommodations that make it easier for people with disabilities to board a bus, cross a street, or enter a building help everyone from time to time.
And our communities are stronger because more people are able to contribute their unique talents and energy.
The gains we've made pay huge dividends for everyone.
More Use of Fixed-Route Service
Because we've worked diligently to make standard, fixed-route services more accessible, more people with disabilities are able to use them.
That means they don't have to rely exclusively on paratransit services that require advanced appointments and take more of their time - and that are, by the way, more expensive to operate.
Today, ridership on fixed-route transit by people with disabilities can be 2 to 6 times greater than ridership on paratransit. And in a nationwide survey by the Transit Cooperative Research Program, 1/3 of respondents indicated that they preferred to take fixed-route buses.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's new Reasonable Modification Rule is helping make those services even more accessible.
Going into effect just 10 days ago, it requires that transit providers make changes to their policies and practices, when reasonable, to ensure that people with disabilities can use their services.
For example: many transit agencies require bus operators to only stop at designated locations. That makes sense.
But what if a particular bus stop is blocked by a parked car - or, as we saw this past winter, mountains of snow?
Many transit agencies have allowed bus operators to pull a short distance from the stop to deploy the ramp for a wheelchair user. That also makes a lot of sense.
By making that flexibility a universal requirement, we'll ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to public transportation, and thereby equal access to jobs, medical care, schools and a better quality of life.
Safer People, Safer Streets
These are the kinds of actions we must continue to take, because there are still areas of our transportation system that are not accessible.
There are still barriers that prevent equal access to opportunity.
One of the most pervasive challenges for public transportation has been the ability to actually get to the bus stop or rail station.
That's why we're striving to improve access by focusing on those barriers that prohibit people with disabilities and pedestrians from easily and safely moving between transit stops and their destinations.
We're talking about sidewalks that are broken, overgrown, or entirely absent; curb-cuts that are in disrepair; and other impediments.
Montgomery County is tackling this challenge head-on with the project we're showcasing today.
Secretary Foxx's 2015 Safer People Safer Streets initiative has resulted in bike/pedestrian assessments in all 50 states and two U.S. territories.
Eight FTA-led assessments evaluated accessibility around transit stations, paving the way for FTA and state and local agencies to work together to improve access.
Given the timing of this event, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that these kinds of improvements require funding - from state and local governments, but also from the federal level.
As many of you know, the most recent extension of the nation's surface transportation authorization is set to expire at the end of this month.
It's one of more than 30 short-term measures used to fund transportation over the last 6 years, and we could have another short-term extension to get us through the rest of this year.
Our transportation system is the backbone of our economy, and our public transportation systems in particular are essential for connecting people with opportunity.
It's hard to make long-term plans based on short-term funding. We need long-term, predictable funding to make the kinds of investments that will keep transit and other modes of travel safe and reliable for all Americans.
As we celebrate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we need to look ahead 25, 30, 50 years and make the long-term investments that will prepare us for the demands of the future.