A new San Francisco bus line, designed to provide comfort to people traveling to and from the city’s financial district, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, according a complaint filed in late March with the Department of Justice.
Leap Inc. provides a variety of luxuries, including Wifi, comfortable seats and refreshments. Rides are $6 per route.
However, the rides do not provide any seating for wheelchair users. According to Chris Pangilinan, the man who filed the complaint, the start-up purchased wheelchair accessible vehicles and removed the seats to provide a bar so passengers can purchase coffee on board the buses.
“I don’t want money or anything, what I want is to make sure that the spirit and the letter of the ADA [is considered] in the way that we build or change our transportation in the country,” Pangilinan told Ars Technica. “If services like Leap are going to become more popular, then it’s harder to fight if we don’t change it.”
Leap does not contest the fact that its vehicles are inaccessible. In fact, its websites explicitly states, “Accessibility is something that is very important to us, but due to our size it is not something we are currently able to accommodate. As we expand, we plan to build buses with wheelchair access.”
Rather, Leap argues it is exempt from ADA requirements because “it does not provide transportation services” and is “not a transportation carrier,” according to its website.
Under the ADA, private bus services not “primarily engaged in the business of transporting people” are only required to provide more limited accessibility requirements, such as ramps, according to the Chronicle. This category includes hotels running airport shuttles. Therefore, it appears, Leap is attempting to argue that it falls into this provision.
On the argument that is not a “transportation carrier,” Leap CEO Kyle Kirchhoff told Ars Technica that the company owns the buses, but lease them to a separate operator, thus allowing them to skirt the law.
The ADA also only applies only to new and renovated buses, with the idea being that old, inaccessible, buses will gradually be eliminated. Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, argues that Leap’s vehicles will not be able to argue its vehicles fall under this exemption.
“Not only did they fail to maintain accessibility features, as they are legally required to do, they took them out,” Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “To remove the accessibility features is the ultimate opposite of accessibility maintenance. It renders hollow the requirement for a vehicle to have accessibility.”