Executive Spotlight: Ron Brooks, Accessible Avenue

Member Spotlights,
Access to transportation determines whether or not more than 60 million Americans with disabilities can participate in the economic, social and civic arenas of the communities where they live. Cities, towns, universities and other organizations who provide transportation that is accessible and easy-to-use transforms lives, but achieving these high standards of accessibility and usability is difficult, and simply following the rules laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act is not enough. Accessible Avenue exists to assist organizations who want to ensure that their mobility-related products and services are accessible and easy-to-use for everyone, including people with disabilities.

What are you and your organization seeking to achieve?

The goal at Accessible Avenue is a world where people with disabilities, older adults and other transportation disadvantaged people are able to go when and where they wish with the same degree of flexibility, affordability and spontaneity as any other person—including those who are able to drive. It’s a world where the physical, mental and financial effort associated with getting places is reduced to the point that people can simply decide and do.

How did you get to where you are today?

I love things that move—the faster the better. But I lost my eyesight at age 13, and that made getting anywhere on my own almost impossible. In 1993, I combined my love of motion with my personal need for better transportation into a public transit career which has spanned more than 28 years, during which I have worked to improve the accessibility and reliability of transit, paratransit and other mobility services. I founded Accessible Avenue to help the mobility industry to accelerate its use of emerging transportation technologies and services so that all people can enjoy the type of mobility that was not possible when I was growing up.

How have you seen the TDM industry change?

The change I have most noticed is the shift from the delivery of transportation services around which customers must plan their lives and travel to one that delivers services to customers on their terms. In the nineties, we focused on getting travelers to the systems we designed, built and operated, and if some customers could not use the service, that was the price of “providing the greatest good to the greatest number.” Today, we are using the convergence of GPS, mobile and autonomous technologies in concert with artificial intelligence and big data to bring transportation to the people where they live, work and play. It’s a wild shift.

Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?

The industry will continue the evolution to customer-directed mobility. We will also see more and more communities adopt integrated service delivery models that allow customers using a single, accessible technology platform to plan, monitor and pay for transportation that utilizes many modes and many providers. Customers will be able to prioritize the values of physical fitness, environmental stewardship, time, convenience and comfort to customize transportation itineraries that meet their personal needs and preferences. And these networks will incorporate the needs of a more diverse set of customers, including older adults and people with disabilities.

What brought you to ACT? What has been the most memorable part of your involvement in ACT?

In the past, the transportation network was planned and delivered by public transit agencies, municipalities and their contractors, but today’s transportation stakeholders also include private employers, public and private universities, real estate developers, technology companies and a myriad of other actors. ACT’s membership reflects this diversity, and as someone building a business that hopes to shape the future of mobility and not just the present, ACT’s membership represents the people and organizations with whom I need and want to connect. So far, I have been most impressed with ACT’s efforts to engage the membership on a daily basis. This engagement leads to conversations which lead to ideas, innovation and progress.

What keeps you motivated?

My personal and professional mission to transform mobility for people with disabilities is very motivating because I’m not only making the world better for others; I’m making it better for me. The work is also interesting, challenging and fun. Other tricks I use for maintaining my commitment to the work include daily journaling, involvement in several accountability groups and regular communication with the customers I exist to serve.

What has been the most fulfilling moment in your career?

I managed paratransit services for Valley Metro in Phoenix from 2013 to 2019. When I arrived, paratransit customers traveling regionally had to transfer between local providers. As a result, many trips took many hours to complete, and customers had to spend time waiting in difficult and uncomfortable conditions to accomplish these mandated transfers. Transfers were considered an immutable part of the paratransit landscape, and many people thought they would never go away. Through intensive work with our member communities and providers, we eliminated paratransit transfers on July 1, 2016, transforming mobility for thousands of people with disabilities who gained immediate access to new communities and new opportunities.

What is a great piece of advice you have received? Have you put it to use?

It is hard to pick just one, but here’s a piece of advice that is serving me well: “Get clear on your purpose and pursue it relentlessly.” For the first 25 years of my career, I thought I had joined the transit industry by accident. As a result, I was always wondering why I was here and when I would be able to get on with my reason for being. But once I came to understand that I landed in transit—not by accident, but because of my own lifelong desire for easier mobility, my work made sense. Everything got easier. The steps in my journey became more clear, and I am now going farther and faster than I ever thought possible.

Any additional thoughts to share?

I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll stop with this. If you find yourself working for someone else’s dream, stop and shift. Life will be so much richer when you are working for your own dreams.