OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee learned about the transportation needs of Oklahomans with disabilities Wednesday in a study requested by Sen. Mary Boren. The Norman Democrat said she was disturbed to learn of the lack of adequate disability transportation around the state that is negatively impacting thousands of citizens.
“We have more than 600,000 Oklahomans with disabilities. While some have their own transportation or a network of family and friends to help them get to appointments and other life events, many do not,” Boren said. “As a state, we must step up and be their network and ensure we have a transportation structure that meets their unique needs.”
According to the 2017 American Community Survey, Oklahoma had an estimated disability population of more than 606,000 and a disability rate of nearly 16%. The employment rate of working-age people with disabilities was close to 37%.
Boren opened the meeting by reading a statement by Richard Anderson, the chair of the local chapter of Oklahoma ADAPT, a national grass-roots organization that advocates for the civil and human rights of those with disabilities, urging lawmakers to invest in and develop a statewide on-demand transportation service.
“I am sure that a lot of you may not realize that transportation is a huge problem for people with disabilities in the United States, and specifically my beloved home, Oklahoma,” wrote Anderson. “The issue we face is being unable to travel easily within our own towns and cities, as well as being totally unable to go outside of our city of residence. This has a devastating effect on our lives, especially our health, well-being, social life, and employment.”
Anderson went on to describe his struggle of missing out on numerous jobs over the years because of his lack of access to reliable transportation and instead having to unwillingly depend on government assistance. He said Oklahoma has missed out on an economic opportunity by not investing in adequate transportation, leading many to drain state and federal assistance rather than contributing to the state’s economy. Anderson, like many other disabled Oklahomans, is also unable to attend his children’s sporting events and other basic daily activities.
Stephanie Roe, executive project coordinator for the state Department of Rehabilitative Services (OKDRS), said their agency conducts a statewide needs assessment every three years for those with disabilities. The next assessment will be released in September 2022. She verified that transportation is a significant need with clients’ greatest problems including lack of transportation service statewide, expense, inconsistency in services, and drivers not waiting the allotted time for client pickup. Clients have reported that transportation is one of their biggest barriers to getting and keeping a job as well as social services, education, and healthcare.
In 2006, the governor’s Oklahoma United We Ride Council was created under OKDRS. However, council members had no authority. With the passage of House Bill 1365 in 2019, authority was moved to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) to establish the Office of Mobility and Public Transit (OMPT). Through a partnership with ODOT, OKDRS ensured individuals with disabilities were included during the planning of the final Oklahoma Transit Plan.
Members heard about two programs in the state that provide on-demand transportation services for disabled citizens. PICK Transportation is a collaboration of four transportation providers (Pelivan Transit, JAMM Transit, Cimarron Transit and KI BOIS Areas Transit System) working together to provide on-demand regional mobility services in 21 communities throughout eastern Oklahoma utilizing UBER technology. PICK is also working with local hospitals and doctors to help educate patients about their transportation services and assist with after hour discharges, appointments and return visits.
Oklahoma Mobility Management supports individuals, communities, public transit agencies and other mobility providers through partnerships, agreements between providers, and opportunities to share resources and reduce costs for transportation services. Through various outreach efforts, the program helps states effectively plan a responsive and sustainable transportation network to meet the needs of their disabled citizens. Thirteen states currently have Mobility Management networks, and ODOT, along with the Oklahoma Transit Association, will be implementing this program in Oklahoma in the coming months.
Sen. Boren: (405) 521-5553 or Mary.Boren@oksenate.gov