Much of New Jersey's existing transit infrastructure is oriented toward working commuters' needs, with peak services providing access to historic employment centers in major cities, especially New York. In an increasingly tight labor market, employers are looking to new sources for employees – and people with disabilities are experiencing historically high rates of employment. However, this "high rate" is still approximately half the rate of adults without disabilities. Across the US, the employment rate for this population was 37.3% for people with disabilities and 79.4% for people without disabilities; in NJ, the rate is 39.2 and 80.9 for people without disabilities. From a policy perspective, NJ is an "Employment First" state, meaning that competitive employment is the first and preferred post-education activity for everyone, including people with disabilities.
However, a lack of flexible, affordable and real-time transportation options that work for people with disabilities to get to work is a persistent issue within this policy framework. Accessible fixed route NJ TRANSIT services primarily focus on commuter access on major corridors. Many people with disabilities need local mobility – to smaller, more local employment options. Access Link provides curb to curb service for those that apply, are found eligible, and live in the service area – close to existing fixed route local bus and light rail service. However, Access Link requires and advance reservation, as do the 21 different county paratransit services. None of these existing programs meet the needs of people who work – who may have unpredictable schedules, be delayed by an unexpected demand at the end of the day, or won't keep their job if they can't consistently arrive on time.
Current projections show that statewide, there are over 820,000 adults with disabilities across New Jersey, statewide; there were 54,171 people registered for Access Link and active riders made 1,551,167 trips in NJ in FY 2019. County paratransit services in each county provide just over 3 million trips per year (2018) across the state. There are 40,645 people with disabilities who have NJ TRANSIT reduced fare cards, which provides them with access to discounted bus, rail and light rail fares.
In 2017, there were 412,600 people, approximately 7.9% of the working –age population in NJ (ages 21-64), with disabilities. The share percentage with disability increases as the population grows older, and among the 155,700 New Jerseyans age 65-74, it was 19.6%, and for the 251,900 residents over age 75, the percentage of the population with a disability increases to 43.3% (source: 2017 Disability Status Report - New Jersey, 2019 Cornell University). In all instances, "ambulatory disability" is the most prevalent disability. For working-age people with disabilities, the next most prevalent disabilities are cognitive and independent living. For those age 65+, ambulatory disabilities are the most prevalent, and independent living and issues with hearing were second and third.
While many adults with disabilities live in the community, there are known concentrations of populations as well. Communities like South Orange and Allendale are "hubs" for people with disabilities as they host agencies like JESPY House and supportive apartments under the auspices of United Way of Bergen County. Low to moderate income housing is available across the state, and the Supportive Housing Association of NJ provides linkages to a broad array of agencies and services that help support people with disabilities living in the community.
This project would seek to: 1) create an inventory of population concentrations of people with disabilities (origins); 2) examine how existing transportation programs and resources connect those populations to key destinations, including state and local agencies, educational centers, and employment sites; 3) identify opportunities to improve the existing network and recommendations for addressing the most prevalent "disconnects" would be generated. This study would also look at best practice examples that have consistently strengthened the physical connection to competitive employment for people with disabilities, and strategies best suited for adaptation to NJ conditions would be identified for potential program development and/or pilot implementation with evaluation.