Thursday, January 06, 2000

Wheelchair bus rider sues Metro

Complaints go back 9 years

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Saying Metro drivers continue to ignore or abuse him because he travels in a wheelchair, a downtown resident with cerebral palsy sued the bus company this week.

        Reggie Bell's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, seeks unspecified damages from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

        Attorneys Marc D. Mezibov and Michael N. Budelsky said SORTA's treatment of their client violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and Ohio and U.S. Constitutions that promise equal protection.

        In his complaint, Mr. Bell, of the 800 block of Walnut Street, said the discrimination continues despite nine years of complaints to SORTA and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and promises by SORTA to live up to its anti-discrimination policies.

        Mr. Bell relies on Metro buses with lifts to get around. In years covered by his complaints and his lawsuit, Mr. Bell said, some drivers have refused to pick him up or to follow SORTA policy and obtain alternative service for him.

        He said other drivers have failed to secure his wheelchair after he used the lift to board their buses, and he has been injured when the wheelchair rolled around or tipped.

        One driver threatened Mr. Bell for reporting maltreatment and another told passengers Mr. Bell was the reason his bus was behind schedule, according to the complaint.

        This abusive and discriminatory behavior continued despite complaints to SORTA, Mr. Bell said, and a 1998 promise to retrain drivers in terms of sensitivity to disabled patrons and to “enforce its policy that bus patrons will not be subjected to derogatory remarks and abusive language” by drivers.

        Sallie Hilvers, spokeswoman for SORTA, responded Wednesday that Metro trains and retrains drivers on the importance of welcoming and accommodating riders with disabilities.

        She said drivers referred to in Mr. Bell's 1998 settlement were retrained and every SORTA driver was run through a refresher course.

        Beyond that, Ms. Hilvers would not comment.


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- Wheelchair bus rider sues Metro