The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and organizations representing people with disabilities have reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought over accessibility problems that denied people with disabilities equal access to the public transportation system, both sides announced today. Under the agreement, the T will undertake major improvements in equipment, facilities and services that promise to enhance accessibility for people with disabilities while improving service for all T passengers. Both sides hailed the settlement as the beginning of a new relationship between the T and people with disabilities. The agreement, which was unanimously approved by the MBTA Board of Directors, settles a class action, Joanne Daniels-Finegold, et al. v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, filed in 2002 by Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Eleven individual plaintiffs and the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) cited a number of problems that make it difficult for people who are blind, deaf or have mobility disabilities from using MBTA subways and buses. The complaint alleged that the MBTA had failed to maintain bus lifts, station elevators and other accessibility equipment in good operating condition, maintain subway stations and subway train platforms in safe and accessible condition, and ensure that bus and train operators provided proper service to passengers with disabilities. In a joint effort, BCIL, GBLS, and the MBTA used research on key matters, including undercover monitoring of buses, filming of Green Line trains, computer analyses of elevator maintenance records, and elevator inspections by outside experts. MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas directed his staff to work with the plaintiffs to reach an agreement. Negotiations began last July and concluded last week. A public hearing on the settlement will be held June 15th before U.S. District Judge Morris E. Lasker. Under the settlement, no damages will be paid to individual plaintiffs. Instead, approximately $310 million in funds will be programmed into the T’s Capital Investment Program to improve services and infrastructure. Under key terms of the settlement, the MBTA has agreed to: · Invest $122 million in elevators and escalators over the next five years to ensure continuous elevator service during all passenger service hours. · Improve bus services by requiring bus drivers to treat passengers who have disabilities with courtesy, use lifts and ramps properly, pull to the curb at stops, make stop announcements, and follow all rules concerning accessible services. · Improve bus maintenance to ensure that ramps and other devices work properly. · Buy nearly 400 new low-floor buses, which provide for the easiest boarding. · Close platform gaps between subway cars and platforms, which present serious safety hazards, especially to passengers using wheelchairs. · Replace mobile wheelchair lifts that are the most dangerous and difficult to use with “mini-high” platforms and ramps, and speed up the introduction of low-floor cars on all branches of the Green Line. · Install new PA systems and electronic message boards to provide all passengers with reliable, up-to-date information. · Improve training and customer assistance involving people with disabilities. · Appoint an assistant general manager with responsibility for making bus and subway services accessible. · Monitor compliance through a court-appointed monitor and continued undercover monitoring of bus services. “This agreement is the product of a good faith discussion focused on improving service for people with disabilities, specifically, and all passengers, generally,” said Transportation Secretary John Cogliano, who serves as chairman of the MBTA Board of Directors. “Starting today, the T will take a series of important steps to achieve that goal to the benefit of everyone.” “These changes will make the T more accessible to a wider range of people, and improve overall service for customers,” said Grabauskas. “My staff has worked extraordinarily hard to identify improvements that will lead to more efficient service and a better experience for all T passengers. It’s my strong belief that the MBTA will be a model for the country in ensuring equal access to public transportation for people of all abilities.” Plaintiffs hailed the settlement as the beginning of a new era of independence for people with disabilities who rely on public transportation. They also noted that continued cooperation between the two sides – as well as the support of the public – will be necessary to enact the changes envisioned in the settlement. “We see this settlement as the start of a new relationship between everyone who works for the T and those people with disabilities who depend on it,” said Bill Henning, Executive Director of the Boston Center for Independent Living. Henning cited three immediate priorities for implementing the agreement: improving the knowledge of T staff about the needs of disabled passengers, fixing broken elevators, and informing the general public about barriers facing people with disabilities on the T and the efforts being made to address them. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs said the process of reaching the settlement has already changed attitudes at the T. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but one thing has changed already,” said Dan Manning, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services. “Before this case, people with disabilities were virtually invisible at the T. Now, they have a voice.” Plaintiffs named in the class action heralded the settlement as ushering in a new era of accessibility. They hoped the agreement would encourage more people with disabilities to use public transportation. "I hope that the settlement will encourage physically challenged people to use the T rather than stay at home or accept limited choices,” said Joanne Daniels-Finegold, the lead named plaintiff. "The changes this brings will benefit the general public, not just the disabled community." “This settlement means I will finally have the freedom to come and go, where I want and when I want,” said Rob Park, who commutes to work on the subway and has found himself stranded by broken elevators. “I’m looking forward to new buses, new trains and elevators that actually work. I look forward to the day when everyone truly has equal access to the T.” Other plaintiffs named in the case were Rogera Robinson, Gene Smith, Reginald Clark, Madelyn Joan Golden, Myrnairis Cepeda, Maureen Cancemi, Andrew Forman, Danford Larkin and Thomas Gilbert. The Boston Center for Independent Living
provides services, community education, advocacy and employment for individuals with disabilities. Greater Boston Legal Services
provides free legal services to low-income people and nonprofit organizations.