August 11, 2011
Re: FTA Complaint Number 11-0298
Dear [name withheld]:
This letter responds to your complaint against Valley Metro. 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 C.F.R. Parts 27, 37, and 38. The U.S. Department of Justice referred your complaint to DOT’s Departmental Office of Civil Rights, which forwarded it to FTA for appropriate action.
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 (DOJ) 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 alleged that Valley Metro is improperly preventing you from bringing your service animal, [name withheld], aboard the Dial-A-Ride vans, unless [name withheld] is kept in a closed pet container.
After reviewing your complaint correspondence, we find we are not able to take further action for the following reasons.
Under 49 C.F.R. § 37.167(d) of the DOT ADA regulations, transit entities are required to permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles and facilities. The DOT ADA regulations define “service animal” as the following:
Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.
Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. 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.
If an animal’s only function is only to provide emotional support or comfort for the rider, that animal would not fall under the regulatory training-based definition of a service animal. Simply providing comfort is something that animal does passively, by its nature or through the perception of the owner. With that said, nothing in the ADA prevents a transit agency from accommodating pets and comfort animals. Some do, and that would be a local decision.
As described in your complaint, [name withheld] would be considered an emotional support animal (ESA). ESA’s are not afforded the same treatment as service animals that can perform specific tasks for you. Valley Metro can require that you keep [name withheld] in a closed pet container. Valley Metro stated in its March 8, 2011 letter that in your complaint you acknowledged that your dog has no formal training as a service animal. Additionally, in your February 4, 2011 letter to the DOJ, you state that your dog, [name withheld], has not been individually trained to perform tasks for you. Your subsequent March 17, 2011 letter to the DOJ identifies [name withheld] as a therapy dog. Regrettably, the information provided does not suggest that [name withheld] should be considered a service animal.
In this situation, the record does not support a finding that Valley Metro has violated specific requirements of the DOT ADA regulations. We are therefore 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 Aaron Meyers at (202) 366-3055 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any further correspondence should reference FTA Complaint No. 11-0298. Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention, and we regret being unable to assist you.
John R. Day
ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights
cc: Valley Metro FTA Region 9