ACLU and Disability Rights Group File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Los Angeles County Transit Authority Over Poor Service to People with Disabilities

November 16, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Western Law Center for Disability Rights, Protection and Advocacy Inc., filed a major class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and its provider of paratransit services, Access Services, Inc. here in federal court today.

The ACLU and Western Law Center charged MTA and Access with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws, by failing to provide comparable “paratransit” transportation services to people with disabilities.

“Access’ failure to meet its legal obligations has risked the health and safety of people with disabilities throughout Los Angeles County,” said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.

The Los Angeles County transportation system is not usable by many people with disabilities, thus the Americans with Disabilities Act requires MTA to provide “paratransit” service that is “comparable” to its regular public transportation, Tokaji explained.

The Act requires the Transit Authority to have adequate capacity to meet demand. It also requires that MTA not make people with disabilities wait longer than those riding the regular public transit system. Under the Act, “paratransit” service is supposed to be available for all kinds of trips, regardless of purpose, and riders are allowed to schedule a ride at any point during the day prior to the trip.

“Public transportation is of crucial importance to people with disabilities, who often cannot afford cars and whose disabilities may prevent them from driving, “said Eve Hill, Executive Director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights. “Without it, it is nearly impossible for riders with disabilities to successfully hold jobs, attend school, and have full social lives.”

According to the groups’ lawsuit, Access has violated federal law in several ways:

  • Access will only allow riders to schedule rides up to 24 hours before the requested ride time. If a rider wanted a ride at 9:00PM on Monday and she called access at 6:00 PM on Sunday, she would be turned down and told to call back after 9:00PM.
  • Access’ system is not designed to meet the demand for its services. According to Access, its vans are “no-shows” for 1% of scheduled rides. Thus, Access leaves 60 people completely stranded every day.
  • According to Access, its system is designed to be on time 90% of the time, meaning it can meet 90% of the demand for its services on any given day. By contrast, MTA’s regular bus service has a 99.51% on-time rate. Access’ own numbers show that its service is not “comparable” to the regular transportation service. According to the figures, Access leaves 600 people waiting more than 20 minutes for a scheduled ride every weekday.
  • Access’ on-time figures are inflated. Access’ 90% capacity figure is based on same-day reservations. Historically, Access has not tracked next-day reservations, even though those are the reservations that are required by the ADA. The experiences of people with disabilities who use Access demonstrate that Access’ real capacity is far less than 90% of the demand.

The complaint alleges that the plaintiffs and other riders with disabilities who rely on Access have continually faced serious problems because of Access’ violations of the ADA. These problems include:

  • Being stranded in dangerous locations because of no-shows by paratransit vans;
  • Being late to school, work, and doctor’s appointments because of vans that are late, sometimes by hours;
  • · Aggravation of serious medical problems, such as multiple sclerosis, because of waiting outside in hazardous conditions when vans are late or fail to show up at all;

    Increased dependence on others because of Access’ failure to schedule next-day service.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit, Nadine Flores, Stefanie Michihara, Maria Vasquez, Johnny Bolagh, Tamara Muhammad, and Mary Ann Jones, are suing the MTA on behalf of a class of individuals with disabilities.

In August of this year, the ACLU of Southern California announced a landmark settlement with county transit officials in a legal fight to guarantee access to city bus lines for passengers who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices.

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