April 14, 2011
Re: FTA Complaint Number 11-0179
Dear [name withheld]:
This letter responds to your complaint against Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CMTA) alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring, which includes ensuring that providers of public transportation are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) implementing regulations at 49 CFR Parts 27, 37, and 38.
In the FTA complaint investigation process, we analyze allegations for possible ADA deficiencies by the transit provider. If FTA identifies what may be a violation, we first attempt to provide technical assistance to assist the public transit provider in complying with the ADA. 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 public transit provider which may result in the termination of Federal funds. FTA also may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.
Each response is developed based on the specific facts and circumstances at issue. A determination resulting from a review of these facts is not intended to express an opinion as to the overall ADA compliance of that transit provider.
In your complaint, you state that CMTA has begun removing “sedan-only” designations from MetroAccess paratransit customers’ accounts. For years, due to medical necessity, you have been riding paratransit with sedan-only designation, with CMTA dispatching only sedans to pick you up. You state that you are functionally unable to climb into a van or bus, or use a vehicle lift as a standee, and depend on sedan service. CMTA’s new policy, however, is to dispatch vehicles based on which vehicle in the fleet is available at the time of a trip request, which means you may be picked up by a MetroAccess van, sedan, or contractor vehicle.
In its notice to customers announcing the policy change, CMTA points to a May 2010 “ruling” by the FTA Office of Civil Rights that clarified there is no requirement under the ADA for vehicles to be dispatched by vehicle choice.
We regret the impact CMTA’s policy change will have on you, but we cannot take further action. The DOT ADA regulations require that an accessible vehicle (e.g., lift/ramp equipped) be provided consistent with the vehicle standards specified in 49 CFR Part 38. The regulations do not require sedan service; in fact, many transit agencies utilize only accessible vans in their paratransit programs.
Nothing in the ADA, of course, prevents a transit agency from dispatching sedans for customers who have indicated a need for such a vehicle, which apparently CMTA has done for a select group for some time. This provision of service, however, is a local decision. FTA is prohibited by statute from regulating the operations of transit agencies such as CMTA (see Title 49, United States Code, §5334(b)(1)) and cannot compel an agency to offer sedan service.
In response to your complaint and a telephone call we received from another MetroAccess customer, we contacted CMTA to explain that any changes in the level of service should not be attributed to any FTA action, as was implied in its notice to customers announcing the removal of sedan-only service. A transit agency can decide to provide sedan service to customers capable of using a sedan and remain in compliance with the DOT ADA regulations.
We also clarified that FTA did not issue a new “ruling” in May 2010, which we assume is a reference to a complaint closure letter issued that month. Letters of finding are not rulings or necessarily even precedential in nature, since each complaint involves a specific factual situation. In complaints involving riders who have requested sedan service, however, we have been consistent in our closure letters in finding that vehicle choice is not required. There is a closure letter from 2000 on our website concluding that a transit agency met minimum ADA requirements by providing service in whichever type of vehicle that it has available at the time and location of a trip request (see this link).
By copying CMTA on this letter, we are reiterating our commitment to provide technical assistance as needed to prevent similar miscommunication to and misunderstanding among MetroAccess customers about their rights under the ADA.
In this situation, we have determined that no specific provisions of the DOT ADA regulations have been violated. Accordingly, we are taking no further action and are closing your complaint as of the date of this letter. While FTA’s decision in your case is administratively final, it does not prevent you from pursuing this matter privately in the appropriate court. If you have any questions regarding this determination, please contact me at (202) 366-4018. Any further correspondence should reference FTA Complaint No. 11-0179. Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.
John R. Day
ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights
FTA Region 6