LOS ANGELES - The Western Law Center for Disability Rights, Protection and Advocacy Inc., and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced a major class action lawsuit challenging the Los Angeles County transit system's failure to provide comparable "paratransit" transportation services to people with disabilities.

Nadine Flores, Stefanie Michihara, Maria Vasquez, Johnny Bolagh, Tamara Muhammad, and Mary Ann Jones, on behalf of a class of individuals with disabilities, sued the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and its provider of paratransit services, Access Services, Inc. (Access) in federal district court in Los Angeles today. The plaintiffs charge MTA and Access with denying them comparable services in violation of the ADA and other federal and state laws.

Because the Los Angeles County transportation system is not usable by many people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires MTA to provide "paratransit" service that is "comparable" to its regular public transportation. This means it must have an adequate capacity to meet demand, it must not make people with disabilities wait longer than the regular public transit system, and it must be available for all kinds of trips, regardless of the purpose of the trip. It must allow people to schedule a ride anytime the day before the trip.

"Public transportation is of crucial importance to people with disabilities, who often cannot afford cars and whose disabilities often prevent them from driving, " said Eve Hill, Executive Director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights. "Without it, it is nearly impossible for riders with disabilities to successfully hold jobs, attend school, and have full social lives."

"These three non-profit organizations decided to work together on this case because of the importance of the issues and the inexcusable level of violations by MTA and Access," said Guy Leemhuis, an attorney at Protection and Advocacy Inc.

According to the plaintiffs, Access has violated the ADA in several ways:

' Access will only allow riders to schedule rides up to 24 hours before the requested ride time. Thus, if a rider wanted a ride at 9:00PM on Monday and she called access at 6:00 PM on Sunday, she would be turned down and told to call back after 9:00PM. The ADA requires rides to be scheduled any time the day before the ride - meaning you can call any time on Sunday to schedule a ride any time on Monday.

' Access' system is not designed to meet the demand for its services.

' According to Access, its system is designed to be on time 90% of the time, meaning it can meet 90% of the demand for its services on any given day. By contrast, MTA's regular bus service has a 99.51% on-time rate. Thus, even Access' own numbers show that its service is not "comparable" to the regular transportation service.

' These figures mean Access leaves 600 people waiting more than 20 minutes for a scheduled ride every weekday.

' According to Access, its vans are "no-shows" for 1% of scheduled rides. Thus, Access leaves 60 people completely stranded every day.

' Access' figures are inflated. Access' 90% capacity figure is based on same-day reservations. Historically, Access has not tracked next-day reservations, even though those are the reservations that are required by the ADA. The experiences of people with disabilities who use Access demonstrate that Access' real capacity is far less than 90% of the demand.

"Access' failure to meet its legal obligations has risked the health and safety of people with disabilities throughout Los Angeles County," said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, The complaint alleges that the named plaintiffs and other riders with disabilities who rely on Access have continually faced serious problems because of Access' violations of the ADA. These problems include:

' Being stranded in dangerous locations because of no-shows by paratransit vans;

' Being late to school, work, and doctor's appointments because of vans that are late, sometimes by hours;

' Aggravation of serious medical problems, such as multiple sclerosis, because of waiting outside in hazardous conditions when vans are late or fail to show up at all;

' Increased dependence on others because of Access' failure to schedule next-day service.