A federal judge has ruled that the city of Philadelphia’s transit service for disabled persons must provide next-day service.
Next-day service has long been mandated to provide equal access to transportation for the disabled, but has rarely been enforced because paratransit is often an unfunded mandate. The new ruling is the first judicial ruling to interpret the Federal Transit Administration’s regulations based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In Philadelphia, U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Lowell Reed Jr. sharply criticized SEPTA, that city’s paratransit service, for “failing to plan for the growing demand for disabled transport, letting transit vans sit idle, and operating paratransit service in a pattern that significantly limited the availability of rides.”
Statistics provided during the court case revealed that SEPTA failed to provide next-day service to its customers 13 percent of the time. According to Reed, the agency’s budget assumes that not all ride requests will be fulfilled. “SEPTA has never studied what additional resources could be provided or what different methods of operation could be employed to meet 100 percent of the paratransit demand.”
Judge Reed has ordered that both SEPTA and a local nonprofit disabled advocacy group report to him in late February regarding efforts to reach an agreement on next-day paratransit services.
Nationally, lobbyists and advocates for the disabled hail Judge Reed’s decision. Lolly Lijewski, manager for the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living in Minneapolis, states that the ruling “gives us something we didn’t have before. It gives us a clear articulation of what transit authorities are going to be expected to provide.”
Minnesota note: In 1998, 3.4 percent of calls for Metro Mobility rides were refused because of an insufficient supply of buses, according to the Metropolitan Council. In 1999, this rate increased to 4.9 percent. Governor Ventura has proposed funding in the Minnesota 2002-03 biennial budget to help reduce the trip denial rate to zero.