April 20, 2012
Re: FTA Complaint Number 12-0126
Dear [name withheld]:
This letter responds to your complaint against the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District/Golden Gate Transit (GGT) 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 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 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 you use a power wheelchair and that a GGT Route 71 operator did not allow you to board his bus. He allowed everyone else waiting at the stop to board and then told you “to take a Route 70 bus.” The incident occurred on February 21, 2012, at the San Rafael Transit Center.
Relevant ADA Requirements
The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR §37.5(b) state that “an entity shall not, on the basis of disability, deny to any individual with a disability the opportunity to use the entity’s transportation service for the general public, if the individual is capable of using that service.” Under 37.165, operators must deploy the lift properly when needed to allow a person with a disability to board the vehicle.
In terms of general operations, it is up to the transit operator as to when to board wheelchair users, as long as it is done in a nondiscriminatory manner. For example, if there is sufficient space on the bus when it pulls up to the stop (i.e., the securement location is unoccupied and there is sufficient capacity aboard to relocate any passengers who may be sitting or standing in the securement area), and a wheelchair user is waiting to board, the driver must hold that securement location open for the wheelchair user whether he or she is boarded first or last.
After receiving your complaint, we contacted GGT for more information. GGT responded to FTA on April 9, 2012, and we understand provided you a copy of its response. GGT expressed its commitment to nondiscrimination in providing services and said that its standard boarding procedures are “to board wheelchair passengers first, then ambulatory passengers.”
As explained in the letter, GGT investigated your allegations and reviewed a video clip and audio tape of the exchange you describe in your complaint. The video shows you waiting to board the Route 71 bus, the driver telling you that “the Route 70 will be right behind him,” and then you immediately heading in the direction of the other platform. GGT added, “The driver explained that he believed it would be easier to board [the complainant] on the Route 70 coach based on the size and passenger load and that she would arrive to her destination quicker. Notably, there are times when GGT bus operators may help a passenger by suggesting a different Route. Regardless, [the complainant] is entitled to select the Route she prefers.”
GGT reports that after investigating your complaint, it instructed the driver to board you on the Route 71, as you prefer, and also took disciplinary action. GGT believes that the operator suggested you take Route 70 only because he thought it was the better choice, but made clear in its response to FTA that nevertheless “he should have boarded [the complainant] onto the Route 71, as she was waiting prepared to board from that platform.”
Based upon GGT’s response to your complaint, FTA believes that your concerns have been properly addressed by the transit provider and that the actions taken by GGT should help prevent similar incidents. We are therefore closing your complaint as of the date of this letter and taking no further action.
By copying GGT on this letter, however, we are emphasizing that an operator’s suggestion to a wheelchair user that he or she take another route can in some cases understandably be interpreted as a denial of service, especially when other riders are not given such advice and when the operator fails to deploy the lift. We encourage GGT to continue ensuring that any suggestions by operators are provided in a disability-neutral way.
If you have any issues with boarding or an operator’s conduct in the future, we encourage you to contact GGT and give it an opportunity to resolve the situation. We understand that GGT apologized to you regarding this incident and hope that any future issues can be similarly resolved at the local level. If problems persist, however, you may wish to file another complaint with FTA. Please contact me or Dawn Sweet at (202) 366-4018 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Any further correspondence should reference FTA Complaint No. 12-0126.Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.
John R. Day
ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights
FTA Region 9