Village of Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase, MD, 6-29-10

U.S. Department of Transportation

Federal Transit
Administration

Headquarters

East Building, 5th Floor - TCR
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590

June 29, 2010

Re: FTA Complaint Number 10-0023

Dear [name withheld]:

This letter responds to your complaint against Village of Friendship Heights alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring, which includes ensuring that providers of public transportation are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) implementing regulations at 49 CFR Parts 27, 37, and 38.

In the FTA complaint investigation process, we analyze allegations for possible ADA deficiencies by the transit provider. If FTA identifies what may be a violation, we first attempt to provide technical assistance to assist the public transit provider in complying with the ADA. If FTA cannot resolve apparent violations of the ADA or the DOT ADA regulations by voluntary means, formal enforcement proceedings may be initiated against the public transit provider which may result in the termination of federal funds. FTA also may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.

Each response is developed based on the specific facts and circumstances at issue. A determination resulting from a review of these facts is not intended to express an opinion as to the overall ADA compliance of that transit provider.

Specifically, your complaint alleged that:

Dates and other details regarding specific lift failures you encountered were not provided. While processing your complaint, we left messages for you via e-mail and telephone requesting more information and permission to release your identity and complaint correspondence to the Village; however, we did not receive a response. We did, nevertheless, contact the Village with your general allegations without releasing your information.

Relevant ADA Requirements

The DOT ADA regulations contain two primary provisions to ensure that vehicles with accessibility features are reliable and properly maintained. General equipment maintenance requirements, which pertain to all types of entities and services, are contained in 49 CFR §37.161:

In addition to the general maintenance provisions described above that apply to all transportation providers, 49 CFR §37.163 requires public entities such as the Village to keep vehicle lifts in operative condition and provide alternative transportation in certain circumstances, as follows:

Village’s Response

FTA sent an initial and follow-up information request to the Village regarding your allegations and received responses that provided relevant information. Because specifics such as the dates you experienced lift breakdowns were not included in the complaint correspondence and we did not have consent to release your identity, the Village understandably could not investigate and corroborate any particular lift issue you encountered. It did, however, provide the information we requested on its overall lift operation and maintenance program. The Village submitted details on its vehicle fleet, its contractor’s maintenance practices, instructions for vehicle operators to report lift fails that occur in service, the process for providing alternative transportation following the arrival of a bus with an inoperable lift, and the process for ensuring that vehicles with inoperative lifts do not remain in service longer than the DOT ADA regulations allow.

Pertinent information includes, but is not limited to, the following: (1) The Village uses a contractor to provide the shuttle service. All vehicles in the contracted fleet are accessible; however, the Village acknowledged that lift breakdowns “became intolerable” on those vehicles. Therefore, the Village authorized the purchase of a new low-floor bus, which arrived in December 2009 and was put into service subsequent to your complaint. (2) The contractor’s maintenance practices include daily lift/ramp cycling before pull-out, which should reduce the number of in-service lift failures. (3) Operators are instructed to notify dispatch when a lift/ramp breaks down in service and, if necessary, to arrange for alternative transportation for a rider using a wheelchair. (4) The contractor states that it has a sufficient number of vehicles for backup purposes. In the event that all the available accessible vehicles become inoperable at the same time, however, a subcontractor would be called in to provide an accessible vehicle to ensure that a bus with a broken lift does not remain in service longer than permitted by the DOT ADA regulations.

Conclusion

The record shows the Village has been responsive to your complaint and taken steps to help ensure that accessible bus service is provided; we therefore consider this matter resolved and are closing your complaint as of the date of this letter. If you encounter problems with the bus lifts in the future, however, you may file another complaint with this office documenting the incidents. We recommend keeping a log that records dates/times, route numbers, a description of the incidents, and indication of whether the matters were reported to the transit provider. An investigator would need such details to determine if the Village’s measures to ensure a complaint lift program have been effective or a violation of the DOT ADA regulations has occurred.

If you have any questions, please contact me or Dawn Sweet of my staff at (202) 366-0529 or via e-mail at dawn.sweet@dot.gov. Any further correspondence should reference FTA Complaint No. 10-0023. Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention, and we trust this information is helpful.

Sincerely,


John R. Day
Acting ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights

cc:
Village of Friendship Heights
FTA Region 3
[complainant’s identity redacted]


U.S. Department of Transportation

Federal Transit Administration

Headquarters

East Building, 5th Floor - TCR
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590

April 15, 2010

Re: FTA Complaint Number 10-0023

Julian P. Mansfield
Village Manager
Village of Friendship Heights
4433 South Park Avenue
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Re: FTA Complaint No. 10-0023

Dear Mr. Mansfield:

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights received the Village of Friendship Heights’ March 12, 2010, response to our information request on FTA Complaint No. 10-0023. The FTA Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring, which includes ensuring that providers of public transportation are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) implementing regulations at 49 CFR Parts 27, 37, and 38.

In the FTA complaint investigation process, we analyze allegations for possible ADA deficiencies by the transit provider. If deficiencies are identified, they are presented to the transit provider and assistance is offered to correct them within a predetermined timeframe. If FTA cannot resolve apparent violations of the ADA or the DOT ADA regulations by voluntary means, formal enforcement proceedings may be initiated against the public transportation provider, which may result in the termination of Federal funds. FTA also may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.

The complainant alleged that the Village’s Shuttle Bus service is frequently inaccessible to persons using wheelchairs because of inoperable lifts. We agree that without dates of the alleged lift breakdowns the complaint allegation is difficult to investigate and corroborate. We also appreciate the information you provided on the recent addition of a new low-floor bus to the fleet and the contractor’s maintenance practices, which include daily lift/ramp cycling before pull-out. Both actions should help better ensure accessible service is provided.

We must, however, follow-up on a few points. Your letter acknowledges the possibility that a bus with an inoperative lift could be put in service longer than the period allowable under the DOT ADA regulations because the Village’s service contract currently provides for only two accessible buses and there is no spare accessible vehicle available. (One bus is run on the only route that loops through the community.) The letter states, “There will be times when, with all due diligence, our accessible buses might not be available for a period exceeding five days. If we will then be required to shut down the service to others who may not require an accessible bus, you will need to tell us that.”

Keeping a bus in service longer than five days (or three days depending on the size of the service area) is a violation of the DOT ADA regulations. The regulations at 49 CFR §37.163(e) are explicit:

(e) If there is no spare vehicle available to take the place of a vehicle with an inoperable lift, such that taking the vehicle out of service will reduce the transportation service the entity is able to provide, the public entity may keep the vehicle in service with an inoperable lift for no more than five days (if the entity serves an area of 50,000 or less population) or three days (if the entity serves an area of over 50,000 population) from the day on which the lift is discovered to be inoperative.

While we appreciate the financial challenges and limitations of the Village’s current service contract, this requirement has been in effect since 1991. The regulations do not provide a waiver for cost or contracting issues. As explained in 49 CFR §37.23, a public entity that enters into a contractual arrangement with a private entity to operate fixed route service must ensure the contractor meets all applicable requirements. A contract should provide for a sufficient vehicle spare ratio to ensure accessibility obligations are met.

In light of this concern, we request more information on the Village’s plans for ensuring compliance with the DOT ADA regulations, specifically:

Please also provide responses to the following items asked for in our initial information request:

The response should be sent to my attention within 30 calendar days of the date of this letter at the address above. With your response, include copies of any written policies or instructions implementing the practices. If any practices are under development, please explain the steps that are being taken and provide an estimated timeline for implementation. You may find previous FTA reviews of other entities’ lift reliability and maintenance programs helpful in your efforts. These reviews, which include recommendations, are found on our website at http://www.fta.dot.gov/civilrights/ada/civil_rights_3899.html under the heading “Fixed-Route Operations.”

If you have any questions regarding this inquiry, please contact me or Dawn Sweet of my staff at (202) 366-0529 or via e-mail at dawn.sweet@dot.gov. Please include the FTA Complaint No. 10-0023 in any correspondence regarding this complaint. Thank you for your continued assistance.

Sincerely,


John R. Day
Acting ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights

cc: FTA Region 3