Tips for Taking Public Transportation for Disabled Travelers

As the editor of a magazine about accessible travel, I spend a good deal of time on the road; ferreting out specific access details on hotels, airports, tourist attractions, restaurants and local transportation. I also talk with a lot of travelers, and hear the good, the bad and the ugly about their travel experiences.

Interestingly enough, although many folks spend a good amount of time planning the logistics of air travel, or looking for a hotel that meets their access needs; they give very little thought to ground transportation.

Additionally, public transportation is rarely considered as an accessible travel option. Think about it, did you take public transportation (or even consider it) on your last trip? Well, if you’re like most people, your probably didn’t; however you can change that on your next vacation. Using public transportation when you travel can save you both time and money; however, like all things access-related it requires some pre-trip research. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Big cities are usually the best candidates for accessible public transportation systems. In fact, in many large cities, like San Francisco and Boston, it’s easier (and cheaper) to take public transportation than to drive.
  • Ask about parking charges when you book your hotel room. Sometimes these fees can be as much as $20 per day (extra), which makes public transportation even more attractive.
  • Use the Project Action database to locate accessible buses, trains and light rail systems in the US. Find your destination city in their Accessible Travelers Database, then contact the local transit system directly for access information.
  • Many transit systems also have print or on-line access guides or maps of their accessible transit routes. If you can’t find this information on-line, call the local transit authority and ask about it.
  • Familiarize yourself with the accessible bus and train routes and try to find a hotel near a bus or metro stop. City center hotels are usually more expensive, so if you want to save a few bucks, look for a hotel outside the city center but near public transportation. Check to make sure the attractions you want to visit are also near public transportation.
  • Familiarize yourself with subway or metro routes and consider alternate stops. Many of these lines are accessed by elevators and you need to have a back-up plan in case the elevators are out of service at your destination station. You might have to get off at the next stop and take a bus.
  • Don’t forget about airport transportation. Find out if your hotel has a free airport shuttle. Under the ADA, US hotels that offer courtesy transportation must also provide free accessible transportation.
  • Find out if there is a local rail or metro station at the airport, and if it stops close to your hotel. Contact the public transportation authority to find out if it is accessible. Many airports, like Ronald Regan airport in Washington DC, offer convenient and affordable metro service.
  • For updated information on accessible transportation, contact the Center For Independent Living in your destination city. Nobody knows how to get around better than the locals.
  • Supplement bus and metro transportation with taxis, especially at night. Many cab companies now have at least some accessible vehicles in their fleet. Ask your concierge about the local availability of accessible taxis.

Finally, no matter what type of transportation you choose, take a cell phone with you when you travel. It comes in handy when you’re curbside, waiting for that long-delayed hotel shuttle. It sure beats trekking back to the terminal to find a phone!


A recognized expert on accessible travel, Candy is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She also shares insights, information and industry updates about accessible travel on her Barrier Free Travels blog. Candy can be contacted at Candy at EmergingHorizons dot com.