Monday, April 19, 2010

Disabled riders protest Rochester, N.Y., bus service

From The Democrat & Chronicle:

Dozens of people with disabilities and advocates for the disabled demonstrated Friday outside the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority on East Main Street, criticizing public transit for the handicapped as inadequate.

Carrying placards reading "Don't pass me by" and chanting "RTS says they don't care, they won't take us anywhere," protesters lashed out at the authority's Lift Line service as a mockery of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and charged that Rochester Transit Service buses routinely bypass wheelchair-bound passengers at stops.

An RGRTA spokeswoman said Lift Line fulfilled 99.9 percent of ride requests placed last year, far more than double the percentage 10 years ago when the authority was sued over its Lift Line service.

Anita Cameron (pictured), a Rochester resident who is confined to a wheelchair, said an RTS bus refused to stop for her one evening last week and that the driver of a second bus that arrived 15 minutes later claimed his wheelchair ramp was broken. The driver called for another bus and Cameron was eventually picked up.

"The drivers either don't want to stop and lower the ramp, or the ramps don't work," said Cameron, 44, a systems advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, which organized the protest of about 40 people.

Bobbi Wallach, who lives in a Fairport nursing home, said shoddy service has kept her from visiting her husband of 22 years who lives three miles away. "I call for a ride at a certain time and they say, 'We have no rides for you,'" Wallach, 52, said. "I have MS. I'm confined to a wheelchair. But my disability is Lift Line."

Lift Line provides more than 180,000 rides each year, and regularly serves about 2,200 active riders, according to the RGRTA. Authority records show that 96.8 percent of Lift Line riders surveyed last year were satisfied with the service. A sample of 70 passengers was surveyed each quarter.

The demonstration was the latest episode in a years-long battle between the disabled community and RGRTA over bus service. Ten years ago, the Center for Disability Rights successfully sued the authority for violating the ADA by consistently failing to provide timely transportation for the handicapped. In the ensuing years, an authority plan to improve Lift Line service enjoyed some success, advocates for the disabled acknowledged.

In September 2007, RGRTA expanded the Lift Line service area by 166 percent, and over 6,700 riders have taken advantage of the expansion, said RGRTA spokeswoman Jacqueline Halldow.

Many demonstrators shared stories of having their Lift Line ride requests denied, or having to settle for pickup times several hours before or after their requested time.
Federal law requires that pickups be within an hour of the requested time. "Imagine what your life is like if this is your transportation resource," said Diane Coleman, the advocacy director at the Center for Disability Rights. "It's not functional."