When the local shuttle service MO-X purchased its only competitor in February, the merger came with the usual promises that it would have no negative impact on customers. But when Romanda Walker, who uses a wheelchair, needed a ride to Kansas City recently, she discovered that MO-X had no vans that could accommodate the physically disabled.
“They referred me to OATS,” said Walker, referring to the non-profit transportation service that helps people with disabilities get to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store. “They said I’d have to pay $200 each way, and it’s not equipped to take people to the airport.”
According to the federal Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, transportation services like MO-X are required to operate vehicles that are accessible by people with disabilities or refer customers to an equivalent service that can meet their special needs. Kent Johnson, training coordinator for the Great Plains ADA and IT Center, which provides technical information on the ADA and other disability laws, said MO-X’s referral to OATS failed to meet that standard.
“As long as someone with a disability could utilize that service the same way others can utilize that service, MO-X can refer customers to another company,” Johnson said. He said OATS is not an equivalent service because it costs more and usually operates only near Columbia.
And then there was one
Before the merger, MO-X routinely referred its customers with disabilities to its competitor, Tiger Air Express, which had vans that could accommodate people with disabilities. MO-X owner Norm Ruebling said he made a “business decision” not to purchase Tiger Air’s vans when he bought the company and assumed OATS qualified as an equivalent service.
“All I know is that they have taken someone to the airport,” he said.
Jack Houston, OATS manager, could not be reached for comment. According to an OATS employee, who did not want to be named, MO-X had contacted the non-profit to drive a customer to the airport once in the past year, but it was not a common practice.
After her encounter with MO-X, Walker said she contacted Lee Henson, MU’s ADA coordinator, to report the incident, and he he e-mailed MO-X with Walker’s complaint.
Ruebling said he received an e-mail from Henson but is waiting for a phone call. Ruebling said MO-X ordered a van for people with disabilities around the same time he purchased Tiger Air Express. He said it could be fall before it arrives.
“When we ordered our past set of vans, they said they would be here in October,” he said, “and they didn’t come in until now.”
According to Mike Edwards, an information specialist for the ADA Project, Walker can either contact a local attorney to sue MO-X or file a complaint with the Department of Justice. The case would likely end up with the Missouri Department of Human Rights, which could decide to file suit on Walker’s behalf, Edwards said.
Walker’s failure to get to Kansas City cost her about $400 — three nights in a hotel room she had already booked and a non-refundable registration fee for a Zeta Phi Beta conference. She said because MU’s residence halls were closed over Spring Break, her parents had to take off work and drive in from St. Louis to pick her up.
She hopes her complaint will help other people with disabilities.
“What I hope to get out of this is, since they’re the only shuttle service, I hope they do get a van that’s accessible and they understand that I should have every right that all the other citizens in this country (have),” she said.