Chariot, the private bus startup owned by Ford Motor Company which has been having a rough time navigating San Francisco’s political scene lately, settled a dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to pay $50,000 and initiate a series of reforms to amend discriminatory practices against people with disabilities.
In a Monday press release, the Justice Department said that Chariot failed to properly accommodate riders with wheelchairs in San Francisco and in Austin, Texas:
From July 2015 to November 2016, Chariot may have violated the [Americans With Disabilities Act] by leasing at least 161 new 14-passenger vehicles for use in its services in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, none of which were readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs.
During this time, Chariot’s website and individual responses to customer inquiries indicated that Chariot only provided service to individuals who use wheelchairs if they could transfer to a seat and if there was space for their wheelchair that did not take the seat of another passenger.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires wheelchair access on both public and private buses (with the Justice Department overseeing compliance from private bodies) under Part 37 of the 1990 law:
Private entities that are primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and whose operations affect commerce shall not discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of specified transportation services.
Wheelchair access seems to be something of a regular bugbear for private bus companies. In 2015, Leap also got into trouble for failing to accommodate wheelchair riders as well, although that complaint was short-lived—presumably because so was Leap itself.
As part of this week’s settlement Chariot will pay a fine of $50,000—note that Ford bought Chariot for $65 million in 2016—and promises to upgrade its vehicles to suit wheelchair riders, to train drivers to conform with ADA law, and “not require passengers with disabilities [..] to book a Chariot trip differently from any other passenger.”
Part of the settlement also specifies that “nothing in this agreement shall be construed as an admission of liability” on the part of Ford or Chariot.
Update: In a statement Tuesday afternoon, a Chariot spokesperson said:
We have supplemented our fleet with wheelchair accessible vehicles since 2015, and recently worked to further improve the user experience on accessible vehicles.
In each market Chariot services, we have agreed to operate a number of wheelchair accessible vehicles to ensure commuter customers needing this access have equivalent service.