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MTA Buses Still a Hurdle for the Disabled Despite Court Order

September 30, 1998|JOE MOZINGO

The morning after hearing about a court ruling requiring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to provide access for the disabled on its buses, Larry Beauchamp and Steve Koonz went to board a bus.

They couldn't.

"I'm having some problem with this [wheelchair] lift," the driver said. A minute later, the two disabled passengers were left behind--again--in a hot eddy of exhaust.

They knew that smell.

Koonz was last passed up Sunday on his way to church, he said.

"I can't remember the last time I got from point A to point B without having a problem," he said.

Disabled passengers say bus drivers routinely pass them without stopping and don't offer to strap in riders in wheelchairs, as required by law. The lifts and safety equipment rarely work, they say. And they are sometimes left clinging to rails while buses weave through traffic, they say.

In response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall last week ordered the MTA to immediately repair broken equipment and train its drivers to accommodate the disabled. If a bus cannot take a disabled passenger, the driver must inform him why and must immediately radio for alternate transportation.

MTA chief executive Julian Burke said in a statement Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the ruling "to determine what implementation of the order would entail."

"We take our responsibility of the Americans With Disabilities Act very seriously," Burke said. "In light of the ongoing replacement of our oldest buses with new buses, particularly buses with low floor features, we are confident the overall reliability of the wheelchair lifts in our fleet will continue to improve."

Koonz, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, keeps notes of his problems with buses in his wallet, next to a picture of his family. He and other riders will use their notes to make sure the MTA complies with the injunction, ACLU attorneys said. On Tuesday, while the driver struggled with the lift, Koonz jotted down the numbers of the bus and driver.

He and Beauchamp waited about five more minutes. They successfully entered the next bus, though the seat belt did not work.

Robin Maisel, another disabled passenger, waited for a different bus on Beverly Boulevard. The bus stopped and folded out the lift, which slammed into the curb. Now the bus was stuck. The driver spent about five minutes tinkering with the hydraulics, while the lift's metal plate scraped the concrete. Finally, it jerked free as the bus rocked up and down. Maisel wheeled on and was off.

"Bye, bye. Maybe," he said.

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