Taxpayer Subsidized Amtrak Shakes Down Two Disabled Passengers For $25,000 For $16 Ride
Struggling rail carrier Amtrak attempted to charge two disabled passengers more than $25,000 for a $16 single ride to Bloomington, Illinois from Chicago.
Amtrak claimed the accommodation would require them to take seats out of one of their railcars. Now, the question is, is this a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act?
Adam Ballard who is in a wheelchair was understandably shocked.
Ballard told NPR:
I thought it was a mistake. That’s the price of a car. How can that be possible? I was sure it was a mistake. But I’ve seen it in writing. So I know it’s not.
Unfortunately for Amtrak, Ballard works as a housing and transportation analyst for Access Living. Access Living is a disability service and advocacy center in Chicago.
A group in his office is scheduled to travel around three hours away to Bloomington for a work retreat.
Five of the attendees including Ballard use wheelchairs. Each Amtrak car contains one space for a wheelchair.
Access Living had never had a problem with the railroad company in the past because they give advance notice. Usually, the railroad service took out more seats to fit more wheelchairs.
One time it took out seats in the dining car.
Ballard told the Daily Mail:
But always in the past, it was never a problem to get everybody on board.
Taxpayer-Funded Amtrak Sends Shocking Invoice
However, Amtrak told Access Living that this could no longer be the case. Access Living asked the agent to re-check the price.
Three days later, the agent responded that the $25,000 cost was correct. She explained that removing the seats was expensive and the car must be taken out of service to remove them.
Officials at Access Living reached out to senior Amtrak officials to request a return to the prior arrangement. Amtrak managers agreed to present the situation to upper management and return with an answer by January 13.
The promised deadline passed without any word from Amtrak. Access Living officials also received no response when they attempted to later follow up.
Rail Company Could Be Violating The Americans With Disabilities Act
Attorney Jonathan Mook is an attorney who advises companies about their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was surprised by the $25,000 price.
The $25,000…that’s a Hobson’s choice. It’s no choice at all. Obviously, the group can’t pay $25,000.
The ADA became official law 30 years ago this year. It is a civil rights law that bars discrimination against individuals with disabilities in schools, jobs, public places and transportation.
The law also requires companies to make reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. There is an exemption due to the accommodation causing an undue burden.
Even if it truly does cost Amtrak more $25,000 to take a train car out of service and reconfigure the seats, Mook insists: ‘that doesn’t end the story … [Amtrak] has to reach out and say, “Let’s talk about some alternatives here. What can we devise?” ‘
Struggling Amtrak Tries To Do Damage Control
An Amtrak spokesperson told NPR that the policy does not explicitly apply to people with disabilities, but to anyone who makes requests that require ‘removing seating or making other physical changes to the service.’
While airplanes and buses can accommodate people with disabilities, many wheelchair users prefer trains.
We’ve looked at other options, like buses, and nothing compares to Amtrak.
On trains, the bathrooms are spacious enough to fit a wheelchair and Ballard can stay in his wheelchair instead of checking it as luggage.
Access Living still plans to attend the work retreat next week, with Ballard and a colleague traveling by van.
The other eight people will purchase the $16 one-way tickets on the train.
Amtrak also released a statement to NPR after the publication of the story:
We will contact Access Living and suggest costs could be avoided by using the two separate trains on this route. Each train separated by about three hours.
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