Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Oh the CTA!

"..no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." -Title II, Americans with Disabilities Act
As my readers (I assume that Greg, Christine and Sarah are still the only three) know, I work at a rehabilitation hospital. My co-workers all use wheelchairs and we often ride the CTA together. We exclusively ride buses.

Title II of the ADA mandates that public services must be accessible to people with disabilities. The CTA's compliance with Title II is frankly pathetic. Let's go through a point by point examination of how the CTA claims it is working towards compliance in its March 2006 "CTA Accessible Buses and Trains."

1. "As of April 29, 2005 CTA reached 100% accessibility on all of its bus routes. All CTA buses are equipped with lifts or ramps."

I know that this is technically true. All CTA buses have some sort of mechanism for assisting those who use wheelchairs on to a bus. To say that there is 100% accessibility on CTA buses is laughable. 100% accessiblity means that 100% of people who are in wheelchairs can get on 100% of buses operating on regular routes. I have traveled with my wheelchair using co-workers 10 times. 3 times we waited at least 15 minutes for the driver to figure out the ramp. Twice the bus driver flatly refused to pick up my co-worker, claiming that the lift or ramp didn't work, even before trying. Twice the bus driver let the ramp off in such a way that my co-worker had to pop a 75% wheelie to avoid running into a mail box or fire hydrant. 3 times it went smoothly. Let's be generous and say that my experience is something more along the lines of 50% accessibility. The excuses of a bus driver not knowing how to work the lift or ramp or mechanical failure do not elicit much sympathy from me. Would a driver leave the bus depot without knowing how to operate the blinkers, AC or gear shift? Do they not check at the beginning of a bus's run to see if everything works?

2. "88% of train cars have accessible doors and there are at least 72 rail stations with elevators or ramps."
It is admittedly a complicated procedure to make the L accessible. But CTA congratulates itself on making 72 stations accessible, seemingly at random. New service schedules (such as the Pink Line) often make transferring and getting to work even more complicated for people who use wheel chairs because the Loop L is about accessible as the top of a Mayan pyramid. Accessibility on the L should be a priority, but it is not for the CTA.

Read this longer paragraph:

3. "There are times when a bus will be too crowded to board or where customers already in the priority seating decline to move. A bus operator can only request -not require- other paying customers to vacate the priority seating. Customers with disabilities face the same option as anyone else when a bus arrives without room to board- wait for the next one."

Condescending- yes. Filled with wriggle room for a non-compliant CTA bus driver to make excuses- you bet ya. Customers with disabilities do not actually "face the same option as anyone else" when a bus driver or passengers are uncooperative. We who do not have a disability can wedge ourselves into a spot standing and can balance ourselves. Title II and common decency suggest that a little more proactive approach would be in order.

The CTA needs to be 100% accessible for people with disabilities. It's not.



Cute Me said...

Here Here!!!! I hear ya~ yet another issue with the CTA!!!

Mike Doyle said...

Actually, ADA only requires that seating be made available for the disabled, it does not require that non-disabled individuals relinquish those seats when a disabled person boards. Some systems--especially those in the Bay Area--require able-bodied customers to vacate seats for the disabled, when necessary. However, most systems simply "request" that customers give up their seats, generally because they don't want to force confrontations between disgruntled able-bodied customers and vehicle operators.

In terms of L compliance with ADA, the CTA really is fully compliant with the letter of the law. ADA requires that newly built facilities and facilities undergoing full-scale rehabilitation work be made accessible. That's why the new Green and Blue line stations are accessible, and the rebuilt Red and Brown line stations will be accessible. However, that's also why old stations and stations receiving minor cosmetic improvements are not made accessible--there's not federal requirement to do so.

Finally, "key" stations and routes (both rail and bus) to be made accessible are identified by transit agencies to the Federal Transit Administration, which has authority over public-transit ADA issues, and must provide a "reasonable" way for the disabled to get around on the system. Note that reasonable does not mean direct, thus although some rail trips for the disabled require multiple transfers or backtracking due to the location of accessible facilities, as long as a trip is possible via a key facility, ADA is not violated.

I would also point out that, proportionally, Chicago has far more ADA compliant rail facilities than my hometown of New York.

None of which explains or excuses CTA bus drivers who blow by stops because they don't want to bother picking up wheelchair customers, and we've all seen that happen.