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Wheelchair-accessible transportation goes on-demand

Wheelchair-accessible transportation goes on-demand ‘I think if we continue to develop the right policies, it will help us get to that goal’

NEW YORK – It wasn’t until Chris Pangilinan was in college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and started using a wheelchair instead of crutches that he saw his interests in public transportation, which he was studying, and disabilities collide. Pangilinan, who has cerebral palsy and who is now the head of global policy, public transportation at Uber, recently joined the board of the United Spinal Association. He talked with HME News about advancements in wheelchair-accessible transportation and why much more work needs to be done. 

HME News: Why did you want to get involved with United Spinal? 

Chris Pangilinan: I have known people at United Spinal for a few years, since my work overlapped with theirs around advocating for more access to the New York City subway system. I stayed in touch and when I started working at Uber, we worked together on issues around accessibility and offering a wheelchair-accessible product in the city. I saw how what they are doing is effective in reducing barriers for people with disabilities. 

HME: What is the state of wheelchair accessibility in public transportation? 

Pangilinan: We’ve had an expansion of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in a number of cities in the United States and Canada. New York City has been trying to tackle it from the taxi side and we’ve been able to work with the taxi commission to meet their goals for the last two years on service equality for wheelchair-accessible vehicles. This idea of on-demand wheelchair-accessible vehicles is changing the way we see what paratransit looks like, which is 24-hour reservations and one-hour arrival windows. For me, it’s all about seeing the ability to harness on-demand improve. 

HME: Why is wheelchair accessibility in public transportation still such an issue? 

Pangilinan: I think, in general, looking back at the American Disabilities Act signed 30 years ago, the focus was on improving transportation, so yes, it’s a little surprising to see. For example, in New York City, less than one-quarter of the subway stations are accessible still to this day. It’s an issue of varying magnitude in cities across the country – Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago. But I’m hopeful we’ll see it be more of a focus again, around equity and making sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. I think if we continue to develop the right policies, it will help us get to that goal. 

HME: How is an increasing emphasis on data, in general, advancing the goal? 

Pangilinan: I love data. I love being able to measure our progress, and I think it allows us to visualize and understand, what are the impacts of inaccessibility? There’s potential to harness data to make it clear how far away we are from reaching our goal.


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