Many people with disabilities need special transportation. Lack of special transportation resources limits their access to work, health care, independent living, and enjoyment of life. This article will explain the programs and services available to help people with disabilities in New Jersey understand their rights and know what resources are available to meet their transportation needs. Also see Transportation Programs for New Jersey Residents with Disabilities Resource List.
Several laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to have access to transportation. One important law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One of the main purposes of the ADA is to make sure that people with disabilities have access to new and existing transportation systems, such as buses and trains. The ADA also requires that public transportation systems not exclude people with disabilities. And when transportation providers fail to follow the rules, the ADA gives people with disabilities the right to file complaints or lawsuits against them.
Statewide Public Transportation System: NJ TRANSIT and Access Link
New Jersey’s public transportation system works to make its bus and train services more accessible to people with disabilities. Most buses have special lifts that work with standard-sized wheelchairs and “tie downs” to secure the chairs. Some, but not all, of its train stations have elevators and doors that are wide enough so that people who have problems with stairs can use them. Passengers using wheelchairs may request assistance from a train conductor to use a small portable ramp to bridge the gap from the train platform to the entrance to the train car. People with other types of disabilities may ask for other kinds of special assistance when using public transportation. For example, a person who has trouble seeing may ask the driver to announce certain stops. Train and bus drivers should know how to use wheelchair securement and lifting devices.
The New Jersey Transit website describes these features and provides a map showing which rail stations may be used by people with disabilities.
NJ Transit also has a reduced-fare program for people with disabilities, which covers bus, train, and light rail services. The program allows personal assistants to ride for free with proper identification. To take part in the program, a person must have certification by a licensed physician and apply through NJ Transit. Some private companies within New Jersey also participate in the program.
Even with special accommodations, some people may not be able to use buses or trains because of a disability. For these people, New Jersey is required to provide similar kinds of transportation through what is known as paratransit services. Access Link, the New Jersey paratransit program, provides curb-to-curb transportation services for New Jersey residents with disabilities who are unable to use regular buses or trains.
To use Access Link, passengers must have a disability that prevents them from using the public bus network. Passengers with a wide range of disabilities may qualify for Access Link services. Some examples of the types of people who might qualify include:
A person who cannot walk a short distance to a corner bus stop
A person with a visual disability that makes it hard to use a complex bus system
A person with a cognitive (brain) disability that makes it hard to use a complex bus system
A person with an anxiety disorder who may have panic attacks in crowded places like a city bus.
Access Link follows or “shadows” fixed bus routes. Its bus stops are usually within ¾ mile of existing bus routes. The routes, hours of operation, and fares are like the regular NJ Transit bus network. Unfortunately, there are many gaps in the public transportation/Access Link system—for example, for those who do not live within ¾ mile of an existing bus route (the limit for Access Link). For those who cannot use Access Link, there are other county and local services that they may use. Those services are described below.
If you apply for Access Link services, but are found to be ineligible, you have the right to appeal that finding. For more information about how to appeal a finding of Access Link ineligibility, call NJ Transit’s ADA Customer Service Center at 1-800-955-2321 or contact Legal Services of New Jersey's hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).
County Transportation Systems
New Jersey counties have their own separate transportation programs for passengers with disabilities. Services may vary by county, and you may be able to apply to use more than one. You can find links to help you contact each county paratransit program on Transportation Programs for New Jersey Residents with Disabilities Resource List and the New Jersey Transit website. It is important to remember that each county program has its own rules and requirements. For example, some may transport people only to and from places within the county, while others may go outside of the county.
There are also some special non-emergency medical transportation services for people who are covered by Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare health insurance. These include vehicle transportation, non-emergency air services, and non-emergency basic life support ground ambulance transportation when they are medically necessary. Of course, people who have true medical emergencies may call 911 to receive assistance.
Other public programs, such as Social Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Division of Developmental Disabilities, sometimes provide transportation for people with disabilities. Public school programs for children with disabilities sometimes provide transportation for those children who need it to participate in the school programs.
Assistance from Non-Profit Agencies and Private Transportation Companies
Other major transit services, such as Greyhound and Amtrak, provide accessibility information and services to customers with disabilities. Airlines are also required to provide certain services or accommodations to passengers with disabilities who require them. With some advance planning, passengers may use these resources when they travel.
Many local charitable organizations also offer transportation for people with disabilities, and some private companies provide services for a fee. Following is a list of some helpful online website for these services:
The New Jersey Find A Ride
website (www.njfindaride.org) provides you with a list of transportation service providers that can bring you to and from places that you select. You can also designate what accommodations you need, to locate the most appropriate providers.
You can use the New Jersey 211
system to find rides, either by calling 211 or by using their website.
You can find lists of accessible transportation services that operate in your area on the New Jersey Council on Special Transportation (NJ COST)
ride information website.
What if I need to travel to another state?
There are other resources for people with disabilities who need to travel outside of New Jersey. People traveling to Pennsylvania may get information on vehicle accessibility, station accessibility, and reduced fares from SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority). People traveling to New York should check with the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority). For those traveling to other states, the Easter Seals Project Action Program is a good source for information on accessible travel.
There are many examples of different aids (called “accessible technology”) that help people with disabilities to get around. Some vans are specially designed so that people who use wheelchairs can access and operate them. Many GPS/computer applications are now available to help people with (and without) cognitive disabilities avoid getting lost. Other devices can give directions by voice to help people with visual impairments. One clever application for the iPhone maps the entire New York City subway system, listing handicap-accessible locations. The maps can be enlarged for people with visual impairments. There are many types of accessible technology, and some research is usually needed to find the best affordable technology for any given situation.
Several online sources help people with disabilities find accessible technology that can help them with transportation and other needs. Assistive Tech provides information about helpful technology products. Information about vehicle modifications for people with disabilities is available at the Assistive Technology Advocacy Center. The Back in Action website includes a classified ads-style database of assistive technology products for sale in New Jersey, including modified vehicles.
People with disabilities can see and test many new accessible transportation products at the annual Abilities Expo. This year’s Abilities Expo is at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison, New Jersey, on May 1-3, 2015.
What can I do if I can’t get help?
Despite anti-discrimination laws, such as the ADA, people with disabilities sometimes face unfair treatment and challenges in finding accessible travel. Knowledge of your rights and the resources that are available are important tools to help you meet your transportation needs. Several resources are available to help. The Transportation Consumer Rights Handbook provides some information to assist with self-advocacy. For people who are improperly denied paratransit services (such as Access Link), a guide entitled ADA Paratransit Eligibility: How to Make Your Case provides information on your rights and more practical information to assist in self-advocacy. The Federal Transit Administration accepts complaints of disability discrimination in public transportation. You may also file a lawsuit if your rights are violated. Because there may be a limited amount of time to file complaints, you should act quickly. For more information about your legal rights, contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529) or 732-572-9100 if you are calling from outside New Jersey. Hotline hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.
Resources for Transportation Help
This article appeared in the April 2010 edition of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.