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Attorney General Lockyer Reaches Agreement to Improve Sacramento Airport Shuttle Bus Service for Individuals with Disabilities
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced his office had entered into a settlement agreement with the County of Sacramento to resolve an investigation into problems with the Sacramento International Airport's parking shuttle services that denied full access to individuals with disabilities.
"This agreement will ensure that all travelers, including individuals with disabilities, have full and equal access to shuttle services so that they may catch their flights or return to their homes without having to endure long waits at the shuttle stop while crowded buses with inoperable wheelchair lifts pass them by," Lockyer said. "I am pleased that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors realizes the importance of correcting these problems and has agreed to move swiftly to ensure full and equal access to shuttle services for individuals with disabilities."
The Attorney General's Office began its investigation in September 2003, after receiving complaints from passengers about inaccessibility to the shuttle service. Specifically, passengers complained that lifts were often broken, drivers did not understand how to properly operate the lifts, drivers would allow the bus to fill without first boarding the passenger with the disability, drivers would avoid passengers with a disability, and that the lifts were slow, cumbersome and subjected passengers to humiliation.
The investigation included the examination of thousands of pages of documents dating back to 2002 and interviews with more than a dozen employees. The Attorney General's Office discovered that although buses with broken lifts were identified, those buses continued to be used – sometimes for months before the lifts were repaired. The investigation revealed that the problem had reached such proportions that at any given time in June 2003, up to 30 buses out of a fleet of 40 had broken lifts.
Under the settlement agreement, the County immediately will begin taking comprehensive measures to improve maintenance, repair and inspection of bus lifts and will implement new procedures for documenting and handling problems with lifts and complaints from passengers with disabilities. The County also has agreed to provide better training to drivers on the use of the lifts and assisting passengers with disabilities, and to discipline drivers who do not comply with any of the new procedures designed to ensure passengers with disabilities have full and equal access to the buses.
The County is required to conduct audits to ensure all new procedures are being followed. The County also agrees to completely transition by 2012 from buses requiring lifts, which often are slow and subject to malfunctions, to low-floor buses with ramps. If the County adopts a plan to implement a transportation system that utilizes vehicles that aren't covered in the settlement, the County must notify the Attorney General's Office and ensure the vehicles comply with all applicable disabled access laws.
The agreement also provides for a consultant, hired by the Attorney General's Office and paid for by the County, to audit for a minimum of two years the County's compliance with the agreement and draft an annual compliance report. The monitoring may end after the two-year period if the Attorney General verifies that at least 80% of the airport's bus fleet has been converted to low-floor transport vehicles and the monitor has determined the County is in compliance with all terms of the agreement.
Finally, the County has agreed to pay $41,471 in attorney's fees to the Attorney General for the cost of the investigation.
Since 1969, California law has required that individuals with disabilities have full and equal access to public transportation, including buses, as well as buildings, facilities and sites open to the general public. The law may be enforced by The Attorney General, district attorneys and city attorneys. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990 and enforced by federal authorities, also requires that buses be accessible.
Lockyer has made enforcement of the state's disabled access laws one of his top priorities. In 2003, he sponsored SB 262 by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, to increase penalties for private property owners who continue to violate California laws that require privately funded public accommodations to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Effective January 1, 2004, the law creates a process to help private building owners obtain assistance from qualified experts on how to comply with disabled access laws.
In March 2004, Lockyer entered into a stipulated judgment with Mill Valley to improve its enforcement of state disabled access laws related to providing full and equal access to buildings, facilities and sites open to the public. In November 2003, the Attorney General obtained a similar judgment against the City of Del Mar, and in September 2003, against Marin County. Under all of the settlements, local officials agreed to take specific steps to improve the enforcement of state laws and regulations regarding access. Those settlements also included the appointment of an independent monitor, selected by the Attorney General, to ensure terms of the court agreements are followed.
"It is imperative that individuals with disabilities have full and equal access to not only buildings open to the public, but also transportation services," Lockyer said. "Making our transportation services available to all ensures that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the many activities enjoyed by all residents of our state."
For more information about the rights of individuals with disabilities, visit the Attorney General's Civil Rights Enforcement Section website at www.ag.ca.gov/civilrights.