Hawaii County officials agreed to repair the Big Island public transportation system after a state investigation uncovered a litany of Americans With Disabilities Act violations aboard these buses and paratransit vans.
The investigation was launched by the Justice Department and came about after drivers complained that the island’s hele-on operations were not ADA-compliant, according to a DOJ press release.
According to a deal announced Tuesday, the county and its Mass Transit Agency, which Hele-On operates, will repair the “chronically inoperative” mechanical elevators on buses used for wheelchair access. They will also conduct staff training to better serve disabled transit passengers who have been absent despite federal regulations.
In return for these and other fixes, the DOJ will agree not to sue the county for its wide-ranging ADA transit violations.
In addition to the faulty bus elevators, investigators found that some bus drivers on the Big Island did not alert disabled passengers when the bus arrived at their stop and that MTA made it difficult for visually impaired drivers to find the right bus to board.
In one case, a blind driver got on the wrong bus and drove for miles before realizing he was on the wrong route, and then had to organize his own personal transportation to get to the right place, the agreement says .
The investigation found that MTA was placing unreasonable charges on passengers attempting to use the island’s taxi voucher and paratransit services. This is comparable to the potential ADA violations uncovered during audits of the Handi-Van service in Honolulu in recent years.
“This agreement will remove the barriers to transportation for the countless people with disabilities who live on the Big Island,” said Acting US Attorney Judith Philips for the Hawaii District in a press release on Tuesday. “Our office strongly supports efforts to improve access and inclusion under the ADA.”
The county has 90 days to revise its policies, according to the settlement, and then 30 days to implement those changes once they’re approved.
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