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Caught on tape: Wheelchair woes on MTA

Part 2 an exclusive series
May 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A two-month ABC7 Eyewitness News undercover investigation of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has uncovered widespread disregard for the rights of disabled bus riders.It's a violation of federal law - the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - not to provide equal access to public transportation for people with disabilities. That means all Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) buses must be equipped with working equipment to secure wheelchairs, and MTA drivers must be trained in how to use the securements.

Judy Griffin is a married mother of two who's battled multiple sclerosis for 30 years.

"I'm just like anybody else, I just happen to be sitting in a wheelchair," said Judy. "And I'm a person. I have a life. I'm not just a piece of baggage."

Our hidden cameras were rolling as one MTA driver tried at first to secure Judy's wheelchair. The driver explains that he's "a big man" and can't fit in the space he needed to be in to secure the chair.

Finally, a less hefty passenger steps in to help.

    MTA Driver: "Okay, what do you want me to do here?"

    Judy: "Well, I don't know."

    MTA Driver: "You want me to jump over it? I can't. Okay, this young man is very skinny. I'm very fat, I can't reach over it."

On another MTA bus, the driver tried to strap down Judy's wheelchair, but none of the securements worked. Judy pressed the driver to keep trying, and that's when the driver called a supervisor.

    MTA Driver: "Okay, they say I'm authorized to take off. The law says you have to hold on to the side of the seat and set the brake."

    Judy: "There is no brake, and..."

    MTA Driver: "Then you have to hold on to the chair."

    Judy: "But the reason I'm in a wheelchair is that my hands don't work."

    MTA Driver: "You have to hold on to the chair. See this chair?"

    Judy: "I do."

    MTA Driver: "That's what it's for."

"There are no brakes, and I told him I'm in a wheelchair because my hands don't work," Judy told Eyewitness News after the incident. "I don't even eat by myself, so how am I going to hang on to a wheelchair?"

    Judy: "See my hands?"

    MTA Driver: "Yeah, I just got it from the supervisor."

    Judy: "The supervisor said just..."

    MTA Driver: "That you hold on to the chair."

    Judy: "I can't!"

    MTA Driver: "Yes you can."

We showed our undercover video to Mark Maloney with the MTA.

"He'll definitely be brought in, he'll be counseled," said Maloney. "It really comes down to, it was designed for a set, true wheelchair."

The MTA admits their buses were not built to accommodate the newer, often motorized wheelchairs many disabled people use today.

"The equipment we have isn't meant for them and doesn't secure them," said Maloney.

As for some of the other ADA violations we saw, like all that broken equipment?

"If it doesn't meet, or something doesn't work, that bus does not leave the yard in the morning," said Maloney.

And yet undercover videos recorded by Judy clearly show equipment that doesn't work.

And how about driver training?

"But everybody is trained," said Maloney. "They all know how to use that equipment."

In the undercover videos, drivers repeatedly claim to Judy that they have not been trained and do not know how to use the equipment.

We asked if drivers are trained to be sensitive to riders with disabilities.

"Then on two days of training, there's a sensitivity training," said Maloney. "And this is where we try to train the new operators to be sensitive to different disabilities."

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring of public transportation. Those who have complaints regarding civil rights deficiencies by a transit agency may call FTA's toll-free ADA Assistance Line at (888) 446-4511 or through the Federal Information Relay Service, (800) 877-8339. We can be reached by E-mail at FTA.ADAAssistance@dot.gov. A civil rights complaint form is available at www.fta.dot.gov/civilrights/ada/civil_rights_3889.html.

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