The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states and other governmental entities to provide paratransit services to people who cannot use available public transportation due to a disability. Under this requirement, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) operates Mobility Paratransit, a shuttle system to give door-to-door rides to individuals with disabilities.
However, individuals with disabilities in Maryland face severe issues accessing the paratransit transportation system. They complain that the phone lines they use to schedule rides for paratransit services are often busy, the website option they can use to bypass phone calls is unavailable to blind patrons, and they are charged excessive fees to use the system. These issues leave patrons stranded and cause them to miss work, appointments, medical procedures, and other important daily life activities. Moreover, initial assessments made to determine eligibility for paratransit services as well as recertification for services appear to be arbitrary and conducted by untrained staff.
AARP is representing several individuals with disabilities who rely on MTA’s paratransit to participate in public life in this challenge to MTA’s Mobility processes. The lawsuit points out that people need reliable access to paratransit to get to work, to get to life saving medical appointments, and to remain active in their communities. One plaintiff, 51 year old Phillip Freeman, experienced such severe strain in his eligibility assessment that paramedics were called to help him when his blood pressure skyrocketed during the Mobility functional assessment test (a test simulating public transit activity designed to determine eligibility for paratransit services). Despite the obvious trouble Freeman experienced in his functional assessment, MTA nevertheless denied him paratransit access. Freeman has gout and end-stage renal failure, needs dialysis treatments three times a week and cannot make those appoinments without taking public transit.
Plaintiffs’ complaints about the telephone system include that individuals with disabilities must wait on hold for more than 30 minutes just to schedule or confirm a ride. The MTA’s own data shows that more than 28 percent of people had to wait on hold for longer than 10 minutes, which is far exceeding the 3 minute average hold standard of the Federal Transit Administration.
The class-action lawsuit seeks to make immediate changes to MTA services so that individuals with disabilities can participate fully in society, as the ADA intended.
What’s at Stake
More than ten million people in the United States age 65 and older have a disability that causes them difficulty walking and limits their access to public transportation systems. The ADA and state laws provide clear and specific protections ensuring individuals with disabilities access to transit services. Denying them this right violates the law, endangers their health and well-being, and needlessly isolates them from their communities.
Freeman v. Smith is before federal district court in Maryland.