Non-profit independent living center Self Initiated Living Options, Inc. has along with two individual plaintiffs filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), its chairman and CEO, and the president of the Long Island Rail Road over the LIRR’s alleged discriminatory inaccessibility to those who require the use of a wheelchair or scooter.
“This action seeks to prosecute the longstanding and systemic discrimination perpetrated against mobility impaired persons who desire to travel on the commuter rail cars operated and maintained by the MTA and LIRR,” the 21-page complaint reads.
At the center of the lawsuit are the six-plus-inch horizontal gaps that exist between the platforms and commuter rail cars at each of the LIRR’s stations. According to the case, wheelchair- and scooter-reliant riders “cannot board or detrain a commuter rail car without the use of a bridge plate,” which the suit describes as a piece of equipment necessary for traversing the gap between a platform and train. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires crewmembers to engage a bridge plate, keep an eye on an individual’s progress into or out of a train car, and then re-stow the bridge plate, the defendants and their employees consistently fail to lend a helping hand, the complaint claims. As a result, the suit says, many ticket-holding riders can be left behind or worse:
“However, because [the defendants] and their employees frequently fail to deploy the bridge plate for disabled passengers, the latter party is frequently prevented from boarding a rail car they have already purchased tickets for. Other times, disabled persons are essentially trapped on a rail car, unable to depart from the train. This continuous discriminatory exclusion results in a denial of meaningful, equal access to the commuter rail cars by mobility impaired persons.”
The complaint later picks at the defendant’s method of announcing from which track number a train will depart, which the plaintiffs argue “creates a significant impediment to equal access by mobility-impaired passengers.” According to the suit, if a wheelchair- or scooter-reliant passenger wishes to board a train, he or she has only 10 minutes “from the moment the track number of their train is announced to the time the train doors close.” In this brief time frame, the suit says, a mobility-impaired passenger must first locate a functioning elevator to access the platform, an especially problematic activity at Penn Station considering only one elevator is used to serve two tracks. From here, it gets no easier for mobility-impaired passengers, many of whom simply run out of time and cannot board their desired train, the lawsuit says:
“Upon exiting the elevator at the train platform, the disabled passenger has approximately 5 minutes or less until the train doors close, but first must search among the crowd of other passengers, which becomes particularly acute during the morning and afternoon rush, for an LIRR crew member, who themselves must locate and deploy the bridge plate to allow the disabled passenger to board the train. However, as is always the case in [the plaintiffs’] collective experiences, by the time the disabled person reaches the track platform, all of the train’s crew members have already boarded the train, making finding someone to deploy the bridge [plate] nearly impossible. Consequently, disabled passengers are regularly left on the waiting platform watching their train leave without them.”
Even if a mobility-impaired rider is able to board a train via a bridge plate, crew members often store the device “in an unsecure manner alongside the mobility-impaired passenger,” according to the suit, creating the potential for injury should a train suddenly come to a stop.