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Disabled Bus Riders|Kicked to the Curb

DENVER (CN) - Public bus drivers in Denver refuse to pick up people in wheelchairs because it takes too long to load them onto the buses, a nonprofit claims in court.

The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition sued the state's Regional Transportation District in Federal Court.

It claims the state agency has discriminated for years against wheelchair-bound people, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"RTD engaged in systemic failures to comply with the ADA in 1999 and 2000. The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition ('CCDC') investigated numerous complaints from its members and others who use mobility devices," the complaint states. "These complaints included RTD bus operators passing up passengers who use mobility devices at bus stops without stopping to avoid having to take the time needed, repeated broken wheelchair lifts, bus operators improperly securing wheelchairs causing damage to expensive and necessary medical equipment, bus operators complaining to other passengers on the bus routinely whenever they had to board a passenger who uses a mobility device, and many other ADA violations. This led to CCDC and individuals with disabilities filing a lawsuit, Taylor et. al. v. the Regional Transportation District, 00-Z-981 (D. Colo. 2000). RTD denied any discrimination against passengers with mobility impairments and any ADA violations."

That litigation resulted in a 5-year consent decree that required RTD to improve its facilities across the board and submit to "extensive monitoring," according to the new lawsuit. But the coalition claims the problems returned after some improvement.

"After the consent decree expired, in or about 2007, CCDC began receiving complaints regarding RTD bus operators refusing to board passengers who use mobility devices, claiming 'the bus is full,' when it was obvious the bus was not full," the complaint states.

RTD bus drivers routinely allow non-disabled passengers to take grocery carts and strollers into designated wheelchair seats, then tell the people who need them that the bus is too full, according to the complaint.

In response to pressure from the nonprofit, the RTD again promised stronger policies and new training methods, but the problem persists, the coalition claims.

"In or about 2007, 2010 and 2012, RTD provided CCDC with new policies that it claimed it would implement to resolve these issues. These policies included extensive training for RTD bus operators. The policies are discussed in this complaint. Despite the alleged implementation of these policies and training, RTD fails to follow those policies and fails to comply with the ADA," according to the lawsuit.

"In addition, despite the passage of two major federal civil rights law for people with disabilities, a lawsuit and court-ordered consent decree requiring five years of monitoring and supervision, and numerous meetings and interactions between CCDC and RTD, RTD still denies passengers who use mobility devices access to its buses as required by law and otherwise discriminates against them.

"As set forth in this complaint, RTD refuses to ensure passengers who use mobility devices have access to the only accessible locations on RTD's buses they can use.

"RTD favors the rights of other individuals over the rights of passengers who have disabilities that require the use of wheelchairs and mobility devices."

According to the 70-page complaint, the battle between disabled riders and the RTD has raged in Denver for decades.

"In 1978, disability activists in Denver, Colorado, members of Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation ('ADAPT'), protested the inaccessibility of the Regional Transportation District ('RTD') bus system. These disabled activists, many of whom required the use of wheelchairs and other mobility devices, stopped RTD service at the intersection of Broadway and Colfax in downtown Denver, Colorado to let everyone know that people with disabilities who require the use of wheelchairs were members of the public entitled to use public transportation.

"A plaque on Colfax Avenue between Broadway and Lincoln Streets in Denver commemorates the events and the location where the group of disabled protesters, who came to be known as the 'Gang of 19,' shut down RTD's bus service, some removing themselves from their wheelchairs into the street to prevent busses from moving while chanting and singing 'We will ride!'"

After the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, RTD was one of the first to install special wheelchair lifts on its buses.

RTD bus service extends to Boulder other communities near Denver. The district also operates Denver's light rail system, though its buses are the primary target of the Cross-Disability Coalition's ire.

The nonprofit sued for violations of the ADA and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, and asked to enjoin the RTD from further transgressions "by making its public transportation system readily accessible to and usable by CCDC members with disabilities who use mobility devices."

The coalition, which is based in Denver, is represented by Kevin Williams.

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