For many people who have a disability, taking public transportation is a necessity. But it can also be a nightmare. But a research partnership between the University at Buffalo (UB) and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is working to dramatically improve the public transit experience for the region’s many riders who have some type of disability.
[Photo: Dr. Jim Lenker Photographer: Mr. Douglas Levere]
They’re taking what they’ve learned through lab simulations on UB’s South Campus and applying the findings to the NFTA’s fleet of buses. Their results also have helped inform national standards for accessible public transportation.
The work being done by the NFTA and UB’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) is critical for public transit users like Mr. Andrew Marcum, program director for the Center for Self Advocacy, a Buffalo-based nonprofit organization that helps individuals with developmental disabilities lead independent, productive lives.
The center offers a travel training program that teaches anyone who has a disability how to use the region’s public transportation system.
“Access to reliable, accessible public transit is essential for people with disabilities to be able to live independent, full lives in the community,” says Mr. Marcum.
In recent years, IDeA Center studies have helped inform national guidelines for accessible public transportation, including a recent ruling by the U.S. Access Board to change the ramp slope to make it easier for passengers who use a wheeled mobility device and others to board buses. Researchers there also have published several papers in peer-reviewed journals.
“It’s our hope that our research findings will guide standards that will make buses more accessible to all,” says Mr. Victor Paquet, professor of industrial and systems engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We want our findings to be communicated not only in the scientific literature, but more importantly, to the people and transportation agencies that can greatly benefit from this information,” adds Mr. Paquet, one of numerous researchers from a range of fields at UB who collaborate with the IDeA Center, which is housed in the School of Architecture and Planning.
Other collaborators include Dr. James Lenker, associate professor of rehabilitation science in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, who has also worked on the bus studies.
The IDeA Center and NFTA began their partnership almost 10 years ago. The benefits are mutual. IDeA Center researchers get to take what they learned in the simulation lab and apply it to the real world using NFTA buses and riders who rely on accessible public transportation.
“One of the biggest benefits we have is being able to work with the NFTA and learn about the real-world challenges passengers with disabilities face when taking public transportation,” says Ms. Brittany Perez, occupational therapist and research associate in the IDeA Center who has led the bus studies.
Mr. Marcum adds, “That’s why the research the IDeA Center is doing, and the investments the NFTA is making, are so important. It means better access to the community for people with disabilities.”