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Detroit Free Press - Editorial
November 4, 2005
The settlement of a lawsuit over wheelchair access to Detroit buses is welcome news, but it also means the federal government will be monitoring yet another aspect of city government. The Detroit Department of Transportation will join the Police Department in operating under federal oversight if U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland approves the tentative settlement announced Thursday.
The net effect may not be as onerous as the consent decree imposed on the police force in an earlier settlement with the Department of Justice, but it does mean the feds can step in if Detroit appears to be backsliding in its commitment to retire buses without wheelchair access and repair those with broken lifts.
The settlement resulted from a suit filed last year under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of five Detroit residents who said they sat in their wheelchairs as DDOT buses with inoperable lifts repeatedly passed them by. The ADA requires that all public buses have wheelchair access. A February survey by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that 20-30% of Detroit buses had inoperable lifts, compared to the city's estimate of 13%.
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration, saddled with lift-equipped buses that didn't work from purchases made in the Dennis Archer administration, was on the right road when the suit was filed. DDOT had purchased 120 buses with front-door ramps that lower to the ground to allow wheelchair boarding, and 196 old buses that could not be repaired have been retired. But the lawsuit, filed by Farmington Hills attorney Richard Bernstein, was certainly a factor in assuring the city's continued commitment to handicapped bus users during a time of budget cutbacks and reductions in bus service.
Depending on public transportation is tough enough in a region without a comprehensive system. For people in wheelchairs, it is even tougher. That's why the law is on their side. This settlement should make sure the city is, too.
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