Twenty years after a federal court ordered the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, serving San Francisco and Oakland to make trains — and their stations, entries, and elevators — cleaner and more accessible for people with mobility issues, disabled rights groups say BART has either failed to live up to its obligations or backslid, resulting in a system that is “effectively unusable” for some.
A lawsuit [PDF] seeking no monetary damages was filed today by Disability Rights Advocates and Legal Aid at Work on behalf of two plaintiffs. The complaint alleges that BART discriminates against people who use wheelchairs or who have other mobility disabilities by not fixing barriers to access that have long plagued the system, including broken escalators, non-functioning fare gates, and elevators that are often out of service or so covered in human feces that no one should be forced to use them.
“Even when BART’s elevators are in working order, they are often rendered effectively unusable by the presence of feces and/or urine that BART staff fails to prevent or to promptly clean,” the complaint states.
And while BART’s non-disabled passengers can often avoid these conditions by taking the stairs or an escalator, riders with mobility disabilities that necessitate the use of an elevator don’t have that option.
“[T]hey must either travel to another station in the hope of finding a usable elevator, or roll through human waste in order to reach their final destination,” reads the lawsuit. “This is an especially repugnant prospect for users of manual wheelchairs, whose hands, arms, and clothes inevitably come into contact with the wheels of their wheelchairs.”
It’s not like BART hasn’t been told to literally clean up its act before now, the lawsuit says, citing a similar 1996 case brought by the same advocacy groups, Cupolo v. Bay Area Rapid Transit.
The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for injunction in Sept. 1997, finding that people with mobility disabilities were being denied basic access to the BART system, and ordering BART to adequately maintain and promptly repair its elevators.
A 1998 settlement between the plaintiffs and BART required the agency to fix or replace elevators and escalators as needed and implement an intensive system of elevator inspection and cleaning, among other things, the lawsuit notes.
However, although conditions “temporarily improved” following the settlement, the complaint claims that “BART has since allowed the condition of its elevators and other accessibility features, as well as its policies and practices regarding access for people with mobility disabilities, to return to their pre-Cupolo conditions.”
“I encounter human waste in BART elevators several times a week — so frequently that it has become a predictable part of my commute,” says one BART rider who uses a wheelchair. “My hope is that this lawsuit will finally get BART to address the needs of the disability community.”
The plaintiffs are asking the court to stop BART from discriminating against people with mobility disabilities and to adopt a plan to remove barriers. They don’t want any money out of this either, as the lawsuit seeks only injunctive relief.
“We hope this lawsuit will drastically improve mass transit for people with disabilities and raise awareness about the duty that public transportation systems have to provide full and equal access under the law,” says Jinny Kim, senior attorney with Legal Aid at Work.
We’ve reached out to BART for comment on the lawsuit and will update this post if we hear back.