Academy Express has agreed to settle with the U.S. Department of Justice over a complaint that it failed to provide wheelchair-accessible bus service as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The complaint was filed after organizers of a military reunion requested a wheelchair-accessible bus for an “Honor Flight” of Vietnam veterans from New Jersey to visit historic sites in Washington, D.C., in 2018. The organizers said neither of the two buses assigned to the group were accessible, so a 74-year-old veteran was unable to participate in the first day of activities.
On the second day of the trip the veteran became stuck on a bus when the wheelchair lift would not lower him.
“When Complainant was finally able to disembark, he spent another day of the Honor Flight at his hotel, away from his unit, missing visits to other landmarks, monuments, and unit events,” according to the settlement agreement filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.
“Over the course of two days, for upwards of four hours, Complainant waited patiently for bus access that he never received. To this day, he remembers and re-lives the fear he had of falling off of the lift. Recalling sitting in the hotel lobby instead of joining in the Honor Flight, Complainant summed up his experience: ‘I have never been so humiliated in all my life.’”
The U.S. Attorneys stated that Academy “made no effort to provide alternate transportation … nor did Academy offer Complainant a refund of any of the costs incurred by Complainant for the Honor Flight.”
The government found that “Academy’s pre-trip inspection procedures do not include a requirement that the wheelchair lift in accessible buses be fully tested for functionality prior to a trip where a lift was requested. Nothing in Academy’s driver manual and classroom training syllabus demonstrate proper lift operation on Academy buses or any requirement that lifts be fully tested for functionality prior to trips requiring a wheelchair lift.”
The document stated, “Academy disputes that it has violated the ADA but nevertheless agrees to enter into this agreement.”
Under the agreement, Academy will pay a $10,000 civil penalty and train all employees annually in the requirements of ADA laws and train operators to be proficient in use of equipment and “treat individuals who use the service in a respectful and courteous way.”
Academy also agreed to modify its pre-trip inspection procedures to test wheelchair lifts by fully operating them before using them for passengers who have requested accessible service.
If a wheelchair lift is not functional, the operators must immediately contact a dispatcher to request a replacement vehicle that will be provided as soon as practicable. “If no Academy bus is available, Academy shall procure through other means, such as an alternate carrier, a replacement bus and/or driver at no extra cost to the customer.”
The agreement explained that ADA requires “demand-responsive” “over-the-road bus” (OTRB) operators to provide accessible service when it is requested at least 48 hours in advance.
It continued, “If the individual with a disability does not provide the advance notice the operator requires … the operator shall nevertheless provide the service if it can do so by making a reasonable effort. OTRB operators are required to establish a system of regular and frequent maintenance checks of lifts sufficient to determine if they are operative.
“OTRB operators are required to train their employees ‘to proficiency’ regarding the proper operation and maintenance of accessibility features and equipment, boarding assistance, securement of mobility aids, sensitive and appropriate interaction with passengers with disabilities, handling and storage of mobility devices, and familiarity with the requirements” of the ADA.