When Jo Ann Maxwell, who lives in the North Creek area, can’t get a ride from her family to see her medical specialist in Kirkland, the 10-mile trip can take three hours.
Even just a few years ago, she could have driven there in 20 minutes, maybe a little longer depending on traffic. But Maxwell, 69, has multiple sclerosis and doesn’t drive herself anymore.
Instead she relies on her family or three different transit programs to get her there and back.
“It seems to me that the different transportation programs could be (and) should be more coordinated,” Maxwell said. “Why do I have to transfer three times to go to my doctor?”
She and others who can’t or don’t drive are sharing their experiences with the Disability Mobility Initiative, a division of Disability Rights Washington that advocates for equitable transportation.
Their stories were shared last week by legislators, policymakers and transportation professionals across the state during the Week Without Driving challenge. They (mostly) gave up cars briefly to experience what Maxwell and so many others do when they take mass transit.
In a conference call about the event, state Rep. Emily Wicks, D-Everett, said a trip to Seattle required multiple buses. It went well until she wanted to get coffee, which required a walk down a steep hill and stairs, and eventually she paid for a ride-hailing service for the last mile.
“It was pouring down rain, I was so wet,” Wicks said. “I’m going to a meeting, I want to look good. That really hit me: the difficulties.”
Amandeep Kaur lives near Lynnwood and takes para-transit to school. The trip is about an hour, but the drive would be 30 minutes, she said.
People who use para-transit need to schedule their trips and can have to wait outside. When it’s cold and raining, that’s a challenge, she said.
For a lot of her trips, Kaur instead relies on family to drive her.
Jay Fazekas uses a wheelchair and relies on Community Transit’s Dial-A-Ride Transportation bus service. There’s a bus stop near where he lives in Marysville that doesn’t have a sidewalk, which puts people who want to take the bus at the same level as vehicles.
One of his transportation hopes is more wheelchair-accessible taxis in Snohomish County.
“I know what’s it like to be in a wheelchair and have to get around and not drive,” Fazekas said.
State Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, spent the week trying to bus and walk, with some rides from her husband and children. She also wanted to tour her legislative district, which includes Lake Stevens and Snohomish.
“My biggest takeaway is how exhausting it is,” she said.
Her schedule last week included meetings at coffee shops in Mill Creek that she planned to walk to. But a windstorm changed that ambition, and instead her husband drove her. That’s a privilege, she said.
When she wanted to get groceries, Berg had to scale back her shopping list. A back injury from a car crash last year scuttled carrying her usual haul home from the bus stop.
When she had meetings in Everett and had to be in Seattle in the same day, Berg shifted an appointment to align with the bus schedule to take her south.
The frequency of that route helped her. But not every route in the county has a bus ready every 15 minutes, and she said transit service closer to 10-minute frequency would help people.
“As a policymaker, it showed me really how this has to change,” Berg said. ”This is just me trying it for a week, but for folks who live it we have to do better.”
During the legislative session next year, she said, she will seek increased transit funding and more money to build crosswalks and sidewalks.
To get there would require a boost for transit agencies’ operations funding. That’s something Wicks, who is on the House Transportation Committee, said would be sought during the coming session and in a new multi-year transportation package.
Those improvements could help Maxwell, who said she has felt isolated because of where she lives and the difficulty of getting around on her own.
“There’s many people who just say, ‘Forget it, I’m not going anywhere,’ because it’s just so hard,” Maxwell said.
She hopes the Week Without Driving happens again so more people can empathize with and understand the challenges of non-drivers, and advocate for improvements that help them and others.
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