September 21, 2009
Re: FTA Complaint Number 09-0025
Dear [name withheld]:
This letter responds to your complaint against the Spokane Transit Authority (STA). 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.
Specifically, your complaint alleges the following:
On September 24, 2008, you boarded STA route #27 with your service dog. The operator said the dog was not allowed on the vehicle because it was “aggressive” and incorrectly suggested it was a pit bull. The operator called dispatch and a supervisor boarded the vehicle several stops later to speak with you. The supervisor agreed that the dog, at that moment, was behaving appropriately but said that “something upset the driver.” You were allowed to continue riding the vehicle. The dog, you state, is well trained and rides the bus nearly every day without incident; the operator’s “hostility” was unjustified.
FTA investigated your allegations and sent an information request to STA. We received a response from STA that addressed your allegations and provided relevant information. Your allegations are addressed in detail below.
Relevant ADA Requirements
Under §37.167(d) of the DOT ADA regulations, fixed route transit systems are required to permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles and facilities. Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities—such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. A transit entity may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person’s disability. A service animal may not be excluded unless the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it, or the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Assumptions about a how a particular animal is likely to behave, based on past experience with other animals, are not a factor.
In our review of your complaint, please be advised that we did not make a determination of whether your dog meets the definition of a service animal under the ADA. It is unclear from the information provided whether the dog has been individually trained to perform a task to assist with your disability.
In addition, under §37.173 of the DOT ADA regulations, transportation providers are required to train all employees to proficiency as appropriate under the ADA. This training requirement applies to both technical tasks and human relations, and requires that every public contact employee understand the necessity of treating individuals with disabilities courteously and respectfully. Since vehicle operators can be expected to encounter service animals as part of their regular duties, it is reasonable to expect their training to include matters relating to service animals in transportation.
In response to our information request, STA submitted details on its service animal policy and operator training program. STA also provided a summary of its discussion with the operator and the supervisor who responded to the situation. The operator recalled that, in his assessment, the dog did not appear to be under your control when you boarded the vehicle. Once you were seated, he witnessed you step on the leash to keep the dog close and then he moved the vehicle. STA instructs operators to call dispatch if there is a question or concern with a service animal, which is why a supervisor boarded the bus later. As you suggest in your complaint, this supervisor did not witness any poor behavior on the part of the dog and you continued to ride the bus without incident.
STA indicated it did not have a complaint on file from you regarding this incident. However, Susan Millbank, the community ombudsman and accessibility officer for STA, indicated that she spoke with you in August 2008 about STA’s service animal policies and invited you to call her with any problems you encounter on the bus.
The information provided does not support a finding that STA violated the provisions of the DOT ADA regulations. Operators are often at the frontline of assessing whether a service animal is under the control of the owner. Although there is some discrepancy between your and the operator’s account, we cannot determine the specifics of what happened in your interaction. It is clear, however, that the operator, and ultimately the supervisor, allowed you to remain on the vehicle with the dog.
Based on the above, we are taking no further action and are closing your complaint as of the date of this letter. If you have any questions regarding this determination, please contact me or Dawn Sweet of my staff at (202) 366-0529 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any further correspondence should reference FTA Complaint No. 09-0025. Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention, and we trust this letter is helpful.
John R. Day
Acting ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights
cc: Spokane Transit Authority