Three New Orleans residents sue city, RTA over inaccessible bus stops for disabled riders

Three New Orleans residents sued the city, the Regional Transit Authority and the private company that runs the transit system on Monday, claiming in a federal suit that the vast majority of city bus stops fail to accommodate riders with disabilities.

The plaintiffs say that the RTA itself surveyed its 2,218 bus stops in 2014 and found that more than 94 percent of them lacked a legally compliant pedestrian access route and transit stop area — failures they say make traveling on the buses burdensome for those in wheelchairs and violate federal law.

City and RTA officials did not respond to a request for comment on the suit, filed in U.S. District Court.

The plaintiffs — Francis Falls, Mitchell Miraglia and Thad Tatum — are being represented by the Bizer Law Firm, which has handled numerous similar suits against public agencies and private businesses on behalf of disabled residents.

Another Bizer client, Yadi Mark of Covington, sued New Orleans last year for what she said was inadequate on-street parking in the French Quarter for disabled visitors. Mark also sued Covington for having inaccessible routes in two public parks.

The New Orleans parking case is due to be heard in October, while the Covington case will be heard in August, unless the cases are settled before then. Officials from both cities have generally disputed the suits’ claims.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibited discrimination in all areas of public life against individuals with disabilities.

The suit filed Monday argues that despite receiving recommendations from a private firm on how to best solve the problem, the city, the RTA and its private operator, Transdev Services, “have not implemented any plans to bring their bus stops into compliance” with federal law.

Falls, Miraglia and Tatum use wheelchairs to get around and ride public transportation regularly, their attorneys said. They have trouble getting on and off buses because there are few landing pads — flat, level areas of pavement that make it easier for those in wheelchairs to enter and exit sidewalks — at bus stops, they said. They also have trouble accessing bus bench waiting areas, covered bench pavilions and trash cans.

Even newer bus stops are unfit for the disabled, the lawsuit says. For example, RTA officials in recent years redesigned a bus stop at the intersection of Leon C. Simon and Press drives near Southern University at New Orleans, removing its bench and installing a covered pavilion. However, a new level landing pad was not constructed, the plaintiffs said.

Only about half of the city’s bus stops have paved, level pads, the suit says.

In addition to accessible stops, the plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and reimbursed court costs.

The RTA has come under fire before for failing to accommodate the disabled. Jonah Bascle, a comedian who suffered from muscular dystrophy, made a push to make the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcars wheelchair-accessible the centerpiece of his 2010 campaign for mayor. He has since died.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

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