We strongly urge our fellow Lawrencians to vote "yes" on measures 2 and 3, on the Lawrence ballot in November. We respectfully ask for your support, knowing that improvements must be made to the system. Independence and freedom are very important to your blind neighbors, as they are to everyone; a well-designed fixed-route bus system promotes our independence and freedom.
The T's fixed-route bus system is available to everyone in Lawrence. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) encourages blind people to use fixed-route buses whenever possible. This column presents the opinion of the membership of the Douglas County Area Chapter of the NFB; we are the blind speaking for ourselves. We include persons with low-vision, complete vision loss, people interested in blindness, and parents of blind children. Our chapter feels very intensely about this issue; we were the first independent organization to join the campaign Vote Yes for Transit.
If ballot Question 2 fails, there will be no fixed-route system left, and paratransit in Lawrence will become quite minimal. There will be no system to improve. Question 3 on the ballot is equally important, because it provides money for vital route and schedule upgrades. The fixed-route system must become much more user-friendly for all riders, so more people find the bus convenient. Ballot Questions 2 and 3 propose small sales tax increases with a huge impact on your blind neighbors.
Blind Lawrencians have these options for getting from one place to another: walking; catching rides; taxis; paratransit; and fixed-route buses. This column is too brief to detail the shortcomings of the first three options, except to note that much of Lawrence is indeed tricky for walking by any pedestrians - blind or sighted. Paratransit is door-to-door prescheduled transportation for people with disabilities. The paratransit schedule limits our usage, and it must be booked in advance. If the fixed-route system ceases to operate, federal funds for the paratransit also stop. The federal legislation ties them together. And, under that situation, Lawrence would be forced to sell its federally funded buses.
We use and appreciate paratransit. But it certainly doesn't meet all of the needs of active blind people for transportation.
As we have expressed twice in City Commission comments, "we use both, paratransit and the fixed-route. We need both."
The fixed-route system allows greater freedom of choice, and spontaneity for our travel. If you drive a car, you know you can go when you choose. We desire the same independence and freedom of travel. Our national organization recognizes that we can use fixed-route buses when we choose, as often as we choose. It is the most independent travel we have beyond walking.
We work, attend school, shop, pay taxes and live our lives much like others in Lawrence. Our national organization has been fighting for our freedom and independence for 60 years. Nationally, 70 percent of us are either unemployed or underemployed. Frequently, transportation barriers prevent us from working.
If one of us meets a friend in downtown Lawrence, for example, it is very good to be able to have dinner on the spur of the moment. Whether work or leisure, freedom of travel is very important; it allows us greater equality with our fellow citizens of Lawrence.
Thank you for reading our column. We hope you will carefully consider voting in favor of ballot Questions 2 and 3. The future of an improved transit shapes the future for blind citizens of Lawrence.
- Jim Canaday is vice president of the Douglas County Area Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and wrote this column with the unanimous support of that group.