October 26, 7:32 PMAltanta Low Income Issues ExaminerDannis Cole
Examiner Dannis in her old Ranger II wheelchair, ready for an Atlanta adventure.
Photo by Maggie Cole
More and more small communities are losing inter-city bus service. There is a statewide plan to implement commuter trains and buses, so some communities around Atlanta have commuter buses through GRTA -, Georgia Regional Transit Authority. Greyhound and Amtrak are about equally priced if traveling alone, but Greyhound has offered a half-fare special for a companion, if you have a buddy or family member going with you. The discount is the same for a PCA [personal care aide] to travel with you, so I usually just buy the tickets online and use companion fare for my grown daughter. However you travel, allow extra time. For Greyhound, 2 hours before departure time. For airlines, 4 hours. For MARTA, at least an hour, maybe two.
Wheelchair travel makes it all more exciting. Maybe too exciting, for some. If you fly, you will have to submit to personal search, so plan for it; this is why I recommend 4 hours lead time, and you might even allow more. There are free limousines from Atlanta Airport to local motels and hotels, but you might have to arrange transport in advance if you are in a wheelchair that doesn't fold up. If you are in a power chair, you can't take it on an airplane unless it has gel-cell batteries, and the rules may change. In 2006, Maggie and I had the opportunity to go to California to Handihams Radio Camp. Handihams, an organization for the disabled to have help to get their Amateur Radio License, recommended that I not take my power chair because in previous years, many hams had problems with chairs getting damaged. I took my manual chair. There is a MARTA Train Station in the airport, and motels are a lot cheaper in the suburbs than in town. If you are in a manual chair, plan to back into the train car for easy access, and handicapped stalls are at one end, marked by a sticker at the outside door. This examiner likes to ride in the first car behind the driver because there's no guessing which end of the car has the handicapped stall. You will only have a few seconds to park. Drivers are very happy to assist you, if they know you are there. Cars behind the first have no driver or MARTA personnel, but there is an intercom for problems on at least one end of the car near the driver controls.
Bus travel takes longer, but you can see them load your chair, and unload it. If you don't transfer out, your chair is safer, but most wheelchairs are not technically safe to ride in. You should check your wheelchair manual for whether or not it is safe to stay in it during travel. Also, for where the strongest parts of the frame are.
On my Jazzy 610, Pride Mobility didn't spell out where the tie-down points were, so I just had to study the diagrams and hope I guessed right. You can also ask the advice of the home medical place where you bought your chair, or an Independent Living Center near you. Make sure you charge your chair overnight before travel. You can put seven miles or so on your chair just rolling around between stops, especially if you look for a place to eat or shop for something. There are good wheelchair and other handicap issue tips on Spinlife. Try the article on Wheelchair Accessible Traveling.
When you arrive in Atlanta on Greyhound, the MARTA S1 Garnett Station is a short downhill walk on the same side of the street, with smooth sidewalks. If you need the elevator, and for some reason, it is out of order, you will need to walk the other way to the Five Points Station. It is a good idea to check with MARTA Customer Service at (404) 848-5000 before leaving the station, just in case [ask for elevator and escalator advisories].
For Amtrak, make sure the station you depart from has a lift. Trains in the Northeast Corridor have lifts attached to the trains, but everyplace else, the station has to have a lift, or you have to have a manual chair and be able to negotiate the steps with help. Amtrak employees are generally very helpful and kind. This examiner has had great experiences on Amtrak in Atlanta [lift available], Gainesville, GA [manual wheelchair only in 2005], and Anniston, AL [lift available]. There is an easy roll to the nearest bus stop, and a crosswalk with light. MARTA buses are fully accessible, with fold-down ramps.
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