Friday, December 31, 2010

Disabled man says Central Ohio Transit Authority buses discriminate

From NBC-4 in Ohio:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A bus rider who is visually and hearing-impaired said the Central Ohio Transit Authority is failing in its obligations to the disabled.

Christopher Cooley (pictured) and his attorney, Avonte Campinha-Bacote, filed a federal lawsuit against COTA saying its ADA compliance is a systematic failure and COTA discriminates towards riders with disabilities.

Cooley said, "COTA drivers are suppose to announce their bus numbers, routes and stops if the automated PA doesn't work, or if a rider is disabled."

He said he has been dropped off at different bus stops than his intended ones-- and then with his guide dog Sam, forced to find their own way to their intended destination.

"I didn't know where I was at. I was nervous what bus I was catching and whether it was going back to Broad and High streets," said Cooley.

Cooley said he's made multiple complaints to COTA and he was transferred around without getting his issues resolved.

In an e-mail response, COTA Spokesperson Beth Berkemer said, "It is our policy to comply with any and all regulations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

"COTA is committed to providing superior transportation services to all customers, including riders with disabilities. "In addition, COTA addresses all customer concerns and complaints. When we become aware of incidents where customers have experienced service that does not measure up to our commitment, steps are taken to immediately and effectively correct the situation."

As for the lawsuit, Berkemer said, "it's not our practice to comment on pending litigation."

"COTA's position is that they are complying with the ADA and they are are doing a good job of it. We have multiple records showing the complete opposite," said Campinha-Bacote.

This is not the first time COTA has faced a lawsuit. In 2001, a group filed a Class Action lawsuit against COTA for ADA violations.

According to Campinha-Bacote, the group called the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, et al and COTA reached a settlement agreement and COTA made promises to develop a system to address the problems.

COTA would not comment on the 2001 lawsuit, either, because Berkemer said, "they did not want to influence the pending case."

"There are numerous provisions in there that they have breached and not followed through and not kept their promises on," said Campinha-Bacote.

"I'm standing out there on the street, and this is 2010, and I'm thinking, 'What's taking so long,' (for COTA to comply with the ADA law)," said Cooley.

Both sides will meet Jan. 10 in U.S. District Court to talk about Cooley's lawsuit and see if it can be mediated.