LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California entered into a landmark settlement yesterday with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority in Beauchamp v. MTA, a case filed in 1998 to guarantee access to MTA's bus lines for passengers who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices. Mobility-impaired passengers were frequently left to wait by the side of the road because wheelchair lifts were not in working order, or because drivers simply did not stop to pick them up. Even when a bus stopped and the lift worked, restraints inside the buses were frequently not in working order, thus endangering passengers' safety.

The settlement agreement requires MTA to guarantee that a minimum percentage of buses with wheelchair lifts and restraints in full working order will be rolled out each morning and creates an oversight system to be carried out by an independent company using testers to ascertain how frequently mobility-impaired passengers are bypassed because of equipment or other problems.

"Concrete measures such as this one are the bricks and mortar of history," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "The Americans with Disabilities Act was the blueprint for meaningful change, and this case and this agreement are an example of the realization of that vision of equal access for people with disabilities. Mobility-impaired people will no longer be left stranded on the streets of Los Angeles."

Plaintiffs in the case told of being passed by again and again as they sought to go about the business of their daily lives in Los Angeles.

"Disabled riders have not simply been sent to the back of the bus," said ACLU staff attorney Dan Tokaji, "They have been kept off the bus entirely. Time and time again, the bus door has been slammed in their face. This settlement will change that."

The ACLU sought and received a court injunction to stop MTA's discriminatory service patterns. The August 9, 2000, agreement, subject to the approval of the federal district court, will settle the portion of the lawsuit aimed at improving service to passengers in wheelchairs. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to approve the agreement.

"Negotiations for this agreement were intense," said Eliasberg. "We're optimistic that the judge will see this solution as a just one and approve it."

Private attorneys David Warshaw, Danny Fisher, David Gross, and the late Stanley Fleishman joined the case as pro bono co-counsel.