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The Bus Stops Here

“Boston gets pretty darn cold,” Ross Koppel is saying. “Imagine what it’s like freezing out in a wheelchair in a Boston winter, when buses pass you by, and you see that there are clearly empty seats available.”

Boarding denials for disabled riders may become an aggravation of the past, thanks to the research of Koppel, an adjunct professor in Penn’s sociology department. Working with David Rishel, president of Delta Services Group and an expert on public transportation for the disabled, he conducted an accessibility study of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The findings convinced the agency to pay $310 million to improve driver training and equipment.

“There had been a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction by the disabled community with the bus drivers, the equipment, about the lack of responsiveness and not following the ADA rules,” Koppel says, and these problems were confirmed by the study. It showed, for example, that lifts designed to help passengers board the bus failed to work 19 percent of the time and boarding denials happened another 11 percent.

Another problem the study noted was drivers’ failure to properly secure the wheelchairs in the bus. “If that wheelchair is not correctly strapped down, it becomes what is technically called a missile hazard” in the event of a sudden stop or rough turn.

If unable to provide service to a disabled person, the driver is supposed to get another ride to that person within 30 minutes. “But very often they would not call the dispatcher,” Koppel says.

To collect data for the study, teams of disabled riders and independent observers were sent out at different times of day. The observers hid their forms inside phony school-notebook covers and magazines to avoid calling attention to themselves.

“The disabled community has been fighting MBTA for years and years,” Koppel says. “When my study came in, I assumed they would do what they could to rip it to shreds. [Instead] they said, ‘This is the definitive work on public-transit availability to people with disabilities. We don’t contest a word.’”

Koppel and Rishel have been invited to monitor the Detroit transit system next. He hopes this will be the beginning of a domino effect that improves access for riders around the country.

Here Comes the Sun—and the People

The next hot spots for population growth in the United States will likely be just that—hot spots, in the West, the Sun Belt, and along the I-85 corridor between Raleigh, North Carolina, and Atlanta. That’s the finding of a study by Wharton real-estate professors Albert Saiz and Peter Linneman that forecasts populations in the year 2020. The largest population drops or slow-downs in growth are expected to take place in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.

In the past, “people followed jobs, and jobs followed areas where there were natural resources suitable for industrial growth,” Saiz says. “Now firms also follow people to areas where there is a highly skilled, educated population.

“People are not just looking for a job; they’re also looking for lifestyle amenities,” he adds. “People are looking for good education, shorter commutes, and they’re looking for good weather, too.” Other positive growth factors include the presence of immigrants, low taxes, and the proportion of residents older than 25 but younger than 65.

Saiz says their forecasting methods can predict about 75 percent of the population growth, so there is room for unexpected growth. “Benton County, Arkansas, is a good example. It’s actually the center of the biggest commercial empire in the world”—Wal-Mart. “That would have been difficult to predict in say, 1940. Development is going to happen in places we don’t expect it to happen.” —S.F.

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