Lawsuit challenges Denver light rail accessibility

map of Colorado RTD lines in various colors
RTD Light Rail

The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Regional Transportation District on November 18, alleging that its light rail system is inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

“For many of us, especially those of us who use motorized wheelchairs, public transportation is our only option,” said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the coalition and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Denver Post. “One of the problems with RTD light rail trains is that they do not provide legally required space for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices to board and exit the train without having undue maneuverability problems.”

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public entities operating “fixed-route” systems, such as light rails, built after August 25, 1990 must be “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs.” The light rail, which goes through Denver, Boulder and other cities in Colorado, has been operational since 2000.

The Department of Transportation’s regulations, implementing the ADA, specify that light rails must provide a wheelchair accessible area with a minimum clearing space of 48 inches-by-30 inches. These dimensions are large enough to allow two wheelchairs side by side.

According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, many of the light rails do not contain the required clearing space, forcing wheelchair users to block the aisles or entrance areas.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleges, the light rail operators regularly refuse to ask people with bicycles, strollers and other large objects to move from these areas so they can be used by their intended users. In addition, the RTD posts signs that say these areas are designated priority for people with disabilities, without specifying that they are meant for people with wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

The lawsuit also alleges violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal statute which preceeded the ADA that similarly prohibits discrimination by entities receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against people with disabilities.

“People in wheelchairs are constantly having to move around to try to accommodate other people getting on and off the train,” Coalition Attorney Kevin Williams told Colorado Public Radio. “That just doesn’t happen for other passengers.”