Report paints dire picture of services for disabled and elderly transit riders

People with disabilities and the elderly are often "stranded and isolated" in their homes because of meager transit options, a Metropolitan Planning Council report finds.

Streets without sidewalks, a shortage of buses, missing ramps and inaudible announcements are among the roadblocks to mobility, the study released Monday says.

"Transportation choices are severely limited for those who need them most," council President MarySue Barrett noted in "Toward Universal Mobility."

Council leaders recommend creating a regional mobility coordinator to bring together transit providers for disabled riders and reconfiguring Dial-A-Ride services in the collar counties to increase service. It also suggests the Regional Transportation Authority consider offering a trip adviser program for people who can't drive. The region currently has a patchwork of transit, paratransit and dial-a-ride services across the city and suburbs - robust in some municipalities and nonexistent in others. Hours that buses and vans operate, who is eligible for rides, and how much fares cost depends on where you live.

"Getting around using these systems ranges from fairly reliable and affordable to maddeningly frustrating and expensive," the report stated.

That's a significant dilemma considering the aging population. In 11 years, all Baby Boomers will be older than 65, meaning 20% of Americans will be of retirement age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the metro region, 7% of adults between 18 and 64 have disabilities as do 33% of people older than 65, MPC found.

The report includes profiles on riders, including Cathy Garcia of Des Plaines, who has an intellectual disability and works in Morton Grove.

Garcia uses Pace buses and paratransit but finds the latter is sometimes "challenging because it's less predictable. Sometimes it comes really early and sometimes it comes late," she said.

Pace spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said the agency is working on improvements to its ADA Paratransit Services with a financial boost from the state capital program.

A total of "$20 million was earmarked for investments in our communications technology and transfer locations," she said.

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