December 2, 2015
Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority
127 East 14th Street
Erie, PA 16512-2057
Re: FTA Complaint No. 15-0201
Dear Mr. Tann:
This letter is to notify you that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights has completed its investigation of the above-referenced Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint filed against Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA) alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. The FTA Office of Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring that providers of public transportation are in compliance with the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) implementing regulations at 49 CFR Parts 27, 37, 38, and 39.
In the FTA complaint investigation process, we analyze allegations for possible ADA deficiencies by the transit provider. If deficiencies are identified, they are presented to the transit provider and assistance is offered to correct them within a predetermined timeframe. If FTA cannot resolve apparent violations of the ADA or the DOT ADA regulations by voluntary means, formal enforcement proceedings may be initiated against the transit provider, which may result in the suspension or termination of federal funds. FTA also may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.
The complainant alleged that on June 8, 2015, an EMTA bus operator along M3 Route #1340 was not able to properly secure his wheelchair. As a result, the operator ordered him off the bus and told him he would no longer pick him up.
The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR §37.165(c) allow a transit agency to establish a policy that requires all riders to have their wheelchairs secured while aboard a bus. Therefore, an agency may decline to provide service to a rider who refuses to allow his or her wheelchair to be secured. However, 49 CFR §37.165(d) explicitly states that “the entity may not deny transportation to a wheelchair or its user on the ground that the device cannot be secured or restrained satisfactorily by the vehicle’s securement system.” Appendix D to this section adds that an agency is “to use best efforts to restrain or confine the wheelchair to the securement area. The entity does the best it can, given its securement technology and the nature of the wheelchair.”
As a part of our investigation, FTA sent an information request to EMTA and received a response and supporting documentation. The response shows that EMTA has a mandatory wheelchair securement policy and provides bus operators with training specific to securement.
EMTA’s account of the June 8 incident does not differ substantially from the complainant’s. EMTA states that, on that day, the complainant boarded an EMTA bus at stop #606 using a “Hoveround” power wheelchair. The bus operator was unable to secure the front part of the device due to a “plastic barrier” and, as a result, informed the complainant that “until he is secured to EMTA’s standards, the route will not proceed.” The complainant became agitated and the operator contacted dispatch, which instructed the operator to escort the complainant off the bus so he could wait for a supervisor with another vehicle to arrive in order to “accommodate and prevent further securement issues.” The complainant “declined the accommodation,” according to EMTA. In follow up communications with FTA, EMTA explained that the complainant’s frustration escalated when the operator told him that EMTA would need to make other accommodations for him in 30 minutes because personnel was unable to secure his wheelchair.
Personnel’s handling of the incident appears consistent with EMTA’s overall wheelchair securement policy. As EMTA explained, “If an Operator has issues with mobility device securement, they are to call dispatch. Supervisors are then to report to the scene and secure the device to EMTA standards. The bus is to idle or another bus will be sent immediately.”
In response to the complaint, EMTA took proactive steps, such as initiating mobility device refresher training for operators.
FTA finds EMTA’s interaction with the complainant on June 8 and its overall wheelchair securement policy to be inconsistent with the DOT ADA regulations. A practice or policy of directing wheelchair users off the bus to wait for alternative transportation, or keeping a bus stopped until a supervisor can arrive, when personnel cannot secure a device to the agency’s satisfaction constitutes a denial of transportation in violation of 49 CFR §37.165(d). Moreover, the regulations do not give an agency the option of offering the affected rider a separate “accommodation”—the term used in EMTA’s response. Operators must do the best they can with securing a particular wheelchair in accordance with their agency’s policy and then promptly continue along their route with the rider.
EMTA’s efforts to train operators on securing mobility devices should help avoid similar situations, but it should be expected that some wheelchairs will be inherently more difficult to secure than others due to their design.
To address this deficiency finding, FTA asks EMTA to submit the following:
- A revised policy and/or procedures that address how EMTA will transport wheelchair users consistent with 49 CFR §37.165(d).
- Information substantiating that bus operators and other appropriate personnel were or will be soon reinstructed on the policy and/or procedures.
Please provide the information to investigator Antoinette Davis via e-mail at email@example.com within 30 days of the date of this letter. If you have any questions regarding this letter, Ms. Davis may be reached directly at (202) 366-5190 or via e-mail. Thank you for your ongoing cooperation.
Complaints and Communications
Office of Civil Rights
FTA Region 3
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Congressman Mike Kelly