Why Metro is critical to the disabled community

* This is a personal post from Better Bus Coalition member Jeremy Moses

As anyone who saw the press conference that the Coalition held a few months back will know, I'm a 32-year-old man with spina bifida who uses the bus for all travel except in medical emergencies. Metro has been critical to my independence as an adult, especially since I moved from my parents' home in Florence, KY to an apartment in Springdale in February of 2016. In fact, the key thing I knew I had to have when I moved was easy access to the bus to be able to go anywhere within the city, the county, and the region. 

Imagine with me a community without Metro service at any time of the day other than weekday peak hours. That's the reality facing Sedamsville, Riverside, Fairfax, Mariemont, and Milford along the US 50 corridor, assuming the current proposed restructuring goes into effect in December as planned. These communities will lose not only off-peak fixed route service, but they will also be doubly hit because this will severely compromise Access ADA paratransit service (which is provided to those within 3/4 of a mile of a Metro stop who cannot use the regular service during Metro's non-express operating hours). I don't know how many people currently using Access in this area are impacted, and it may not be significant. I submit, however, that even one is too many. 

Now... Imagine that happening across a wider section of the current system. The results would be, as I stated in June, disastrous, and here are three reasons why.

Access to key services: We are about to see how people in the communities I've listed above will lose access to the rest of the county during the midday and evening. For example, many people with disabilities require complex levels of care including access to specialists in areas such as urology, neurology, and orthopedics. 

What happens if someone who isn't eligible for Access has a 1 pm appointment? These service cuts will make getting from the affected communities to the city's main hospitals and doctors' offices into a FIVE-HOUR journey. You heard me right... There will be people who have to leave home at 7-8 am to make a 1 pm appointment! The return trip becomes a similar four-plus-hour trip when it used to take two.

This will severely impact not only the patients (who now must plan, for example, to take an entire day off work for a single appointment) but also doctors, causing a domino effect that reduces the quality of healthcare everyone receives. This doesn't even consider access to jobs as well as things like grocery shopping and leisure opportunities that are also lost as a direct result of cuts to service.

Loss of housing options: Those within 3/4 of a mile of a current stop will find themselves faced with a "lesser of several evils" choice: either continue to reside where they do now and be forced to rely on any family or friends willing to help; move to a location inside the reduced footprint of Access; or find themselves in group housing. Accessible housing options do exist, but many are either too pricey or even further from the Metro footprint. I got lucky in 2016 -- I moved to a location with access to two routes where I could independently get around. Numerous relocations would mean fewer housing options available to those who want to move to Cincinnati, and that in turn means that there's lost opportunity for economic growth -- which affects everyone. See where I'm going with this?

Loss of independence: I mentioned the group housing option above. To a lot of people with disabilities, this is often seen as the last resort. Group housing is seen as a step backward, a loss of one's right to be independent and an admission that you can't support yourself. Essentially, it's being kicked somewhere that no one likes to be kicked, a low blow to one's self esteem. That, in turn, can also lead to negative effects on mental health -- another area where we as a society are still lacking. Without Metro and Access service, while one may be able to functionally support oneself and be financially stable, the loss of transportation would leave no other option than to move to assisted living. That can be demeaning. 

To conclude, the community at large needs and deserves investment in a stable, well-funded transit system. It does not need or deserve the system getting slashed to the point of being almost worthless. This is true of those with disabilities as well. A sales tax measure to fund Metro bus service will go a long way towards making that a reality. But we cannot afford to continue to kick this can down the road. If Hamilton County voters do not approve the ballot measure in 2018, the pain felt by the US 50 corridor will soon be felt by many, many more in Hamilton County. 

We have to act, we have to act today, and I implore you to support Metro.