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MTA woes for handicapped continue

Part 6 an exclusive series
August 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Since our undercover investigation first aired back in May, the L.A. County MTA has taken steps to improve the situation for disabled riders aboard their buses; in part because they were ordered to do so by L.A. County supervisors who saw our exclusive investigation. The MTA tells ABC7 Eyewitness News they board 44,000 wheelchair passengers every month. It's a big job, and one they're constantly trying to improve upon. Next month, the MTA plans to roll out a "mystery rider" program aboard their buses. And we're told several MTA divisions are already using our previous investigations as a training tool for drivers.

We set out again to see if anything has changed.

"The bus passed me by, and now we have to wait 20-to-40 minutes to pick up another one," disabled writer Judy Griffin explained to ABC7 Eyewitness News as she demonstrated the difficulties encountered by the disabled when trying to catch a bus.

It gets darker and darker as Judy, who has multiple sclerosis, waits for the next bus.

"It makes me feel like I'm not a human," said Judy. "Like I don't have a family, not important enough to stop the vehicle for."

It's no surprise to retired MTA supervisor "Bob," who did not want to be identified.

"There are drivers out there that just don't want to work," said Bob. "They just want to say, 'I've made it on time.'"

Bob spent 30 years with the MTA and says bus schedules do not allow for the extra time it may take to secure a wheelchair rider. Each minute spent helping out means less of the so-called "recovery time" drivers get at the end of their line to eat, make a phone call or just relax.

"If they stop for three-to-four people, then that 10 minutes is not there when they get there," explained Bob.

We heard it over and over again -- MTA drivers passing by wheelchair riders waiting for the bus.

"I'll be waiting just inches from the door -- 'Wait, wait, hold it, wait, I want on,'" said disabled rider Melvin Spicer. "And off they go."

These are disability-related complaints to the MTA for the past two years. Of the 957 complaints, we counted 366 wheelchair pass-ups.

When quadriplegic Cynde Soto got on one MTA bus recently, there was a driver and an MTA supervisor on board. But neither one made a move to lift the folding seat to make room for Cynde. Finally, a passenger stepped in to help.

The MTA supervisor secured only two of Cynde's four wheels. It turns out the shoulder strap isn't long enough.

An Eyewitness News producer asked the MTA supervisor, who was not identified, why he was on the bus that day.

"I'm the supervisor. I do accident prevention," the supervisor said. "I'm just out here riding the bus, just trying to keep this one moving."

Even with an MTA supervisor on board, when Cynde asks the driver to "kneel" - to lower the bus - to make it easier for her to exit, he refuses.

That's a violation of MTA policy.

"He said he was a safety supervisor," Cynde told Eyewitness News after we had left the bus. "When I asked for the shoulder strap, he said, 'Oh well, it's broken.'"

The MTA's own rules require drivers to board wheelchair-passengers first. But we watched as the driver of one MTA bus allowed at least 10 able-bodied passengers to board before another passenger intervened.

Once on board, the driver had problems with the equipment and implied she doesn't usually secure wheelchair riders, saying "I'm earning my money today, huh?"

The driver then outright refused to secure the shoulder strap around Cynde.

Once off the bus, there's yet another obstacle for Cynde -- a sidewalk so broken up, she can't get to the connecting bus stop.

"There's no way, I don't care how good you are at wheeling," said Cynde. "No way anybody can use this bus stop, it's impossible."

Cynde has to wheel herself into the busy street to get to the next bus stop.

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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