Advocates pressing for adequate, accessible public transit for persons with disabilities charge in a federal court action that MARTA is in contempt of court. The action sets out evidence that MARTA’s paratransit service — MARTA Mobility – fails to provide the level of service required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and by an injunction previously entered against the system. They argue that MARTA has failed to take reasonable steps to improve the system’s performance. As a result, they say, those who rely upon the system for transportation to work, to medical appointments, or to special occasions are often left stranded. MARTA Mobility’s own statistics regarding whether its vehicles show up on time — or even show up at all – show that the system’s performance has recently been worse than it has been at any point in the past twelve years.
The contempt motion is a recent chapter in a case filed in 2001 on behalf of a group of MARTA riders who had disabilities: Martin v. MARTA, 1:01-CV-3255-TWT. Those bringing the suit proved that MARTA was falling far short of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court entered an injunction which required MARTA to comply with the law. The court also authorized the plaintiffs’ counsel to monitor MARTA’s compliance with the order.
As one of the plaintiffs’ counsel, Georgia Lord, explains, “Accessible public transit is key to enabling many persons with disabilities to live independently. With a properly functioning paratransit system, they can get themselves to work, to school, to the grocery store, or to visit friends and family. Recently many have quit even trying to use MARTA Mobility because the service has become so unreliable.”
Lord points out that the federal laws under which the current contempt action and the underlying suit were filed were the result of a dramatic 1980s campaign for disability access to public transportation. This campaign was led by the advocacy group American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation (ADAPT). Frustrated by the failure of local transit providers to offer accessible bus service, ADAPT activists led campaigns in cities across the nation, working to force their local public transit authorities to provide fully accessible bus systems. As one chronicle of this movement relates, “ADAPT activists often engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience by chaining themselves to inaccessible buses, blocking traffic, or disrupting meetings. Members of ADAPT chapters also combined to conduct a sustained series of national protests at the regular conventions of the American Public Transit Association (APTA). The ADAPT protests played a crucial role in changing local policies in many communities, and ultimately led to a renewed national commitment to accessible public transit in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.” [Richard K. Scotch’s Dec. 2002 review of: To Ride the Public’s Buses: The Fight that Built a Movement (as found on H-Net).] Atlanta disability rights advocate Mark Johnson was one of the activists whose actions helped to secure these rights.