Disabled riders on Hawaii County’s Hele-On bus system should have an easier time of it following improvements made in a settlement agreement in response to an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the agreement signed this week by the county and Justice attorneys, the county made a number of changes to its policies and procedures in order to forestall a civil lawsuit. The Justice Department investigation stems from 2019, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Malia Hall.
“They did a full investigation and at the end of the day they commended our commitment to changing things even before they finished,” Hall said. “We initiated changes early and often and it led to an amicable settlement.”
The investigation began based on a complaint from a rider that, among other ADA compliance issues, wheelchair lifts weren’t working on the buses. The agreement stated the county “frequently deployed buses with chronically inoperable lifts” for a month or more.
“This agreement will remove accessibility barriers in transit for countless individuals with disabilities living on the Big Island,” Acting U.S. Attorney Judith Philips for the District of Hawaii said in a statement. “Our office strongly supports efforts to improve access and inclusion under the ADA.”
It’s not the first time the county public transit system has come under federal scrutiny. The county entered into a settlement agreement in 2015 as well, after a rider sued the county for not providing ADA compliant transportation.
In the latest settlement, the county agreed to immediately report inoperable lifts and take the vehicles out of service until the lifts are repaired.
In addition, the bus driver will announce any stop on request of an individual with a disability and announce at least at transfer points with other fixed routes, other major intersections and destination points, and intervals along a route sufficient to permit individuals with visual impairments or other disabilities to be oriented to their location.
The county will also site bus stops at locations more accessible to disabled riders, conduct thorough training of staff and beef up its paratransit system to accommodate riders. And, the county will designate a responsible employee to keep a complaint log, maintain records and submit regular reports to the Justice Department.
Interim Mass Transit Administrator John Andoh said he’s very familiar with how the settlements with Justice work, having worked in the transit department in Jackson, Mississippi, when it was under a settlement agreement. He said he’s designated paratransit coordinator Tiffany Kai as the responsible person required in the agreement.
“We’ve prepared an action plan that breaks down the items and what we’re doing to implement those items,” Andoh said.