Blind employees say ADA rights are violated by inefficient transit

cmyers@newsobserver.comJuly 9, 2014 

— A group of visually impaired employees continues to clash with the City of Raleigh Transit Authority over claims that their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been violated.

Employees of the Raleigh Division of the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) say that they have routinely been picked up late for work or appointments and sometimes the vehicles take over an hour to drop them off at the end of the day.

Transit officials say they are working to address their concerns, but that their records show no evidence of such widespread inefficiency.

“This has been going on since February,” BISM machine operator Treasa Ahumada said. “It’s just gotten increasingly worse.” She says between 50 and 60 visually impaired workers are affected by the problems.

Thirty-three of those signed a letter to the city’s transportation provider on June 25 to formally state their complaints. The group listed incidents of missed appointments, circuitous routes that have vans “crisscrossing all over town” and instances of waiting over an hour in foul weather conditions to be picked up.

But according to City of Raleigh Transit Administrator David Eatman, the Accessible Raleigh Transportation (ART) system is an effective service. ART documents show on-time rate of 93.6 – 97.7 percent for trips to the BISM facility since April.

“Are we on time one hundred percent of the time? No,” Eatman said. “But if you go anywhere in Raleigh 10 times, you’re not going to get there on time every time. This is always a problem in urban transportation.”

Of a total of 1904 trips for BISM employees, ART records a 97.70 percent on-time percentage for pick-up based on a 3:30 – 4:00 pick-up window, the ADA standard. Eatman says he received some complaints in April, when the transit system switched its software, but that those issues had been resolved.

“We went through a little rough period then,” he said. “But we feel like we’ve managed pretty well.”

He explained that there might be confusion based on the way the Transit Authority defines “on time.” The system allows for a half hour window of time, beginning when the employees clock out of work at 3:30. Under that definition, an employee could in theory wait until 4:00 for pick-up and still be counted as on time for ART statistics.

Ahumada argued that for many visually impaired and otherwise disabled people, the ART system is their main mode of transportation.

“When we tell people, these problems don’t seem that extreme,” she said. “But this is the way we get to work, to doctor’s appointments.”

Eatman says some employees may be adjusting to the shared ride system, which serves several riders, after becoming accustomed to a taxi service, which caters to individual riders. The ART offers both modes of transportation, but in order to keep costs down for a program largely funded by the city, the shared ride is used for popular destinations such as the BISM facility.

“It’s obviously a big change,” he said. “We realize that.”

Eatman met last week with Larry Overton, Operations Manager at BISM, to discuss transportation in light of BISM’s recent takeover of the former Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind operations and its move to a new location.

While the transit official says the meeting was intended to“open lines of communication,” Ahumada says that the problems persist, and took issue with riders being left out of the meeting.

“No one is addressing us about these problems,” she said, claiming that employees have been hung up on when they have called both the Transit Authority and the transportation provider, MV Transportation.

Eatman maintains that he would be open to any requests to meet, but Ahumada says that no one will actually speak to the employees themselves.

“I can never get through,” she said.

Myers: 919-829-4696

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