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Advisory Group Works to Improve Access for Disabled CTA Riders

May 12, 2009 – Kevin Irvine was frustrated. The chairman of the CTA’s ADA Advisory Committee kept asking questions about performance reports, Web site updates and bus lift failures. But each time, he couldn’t get an answer from the Chicago Transit Authority’s long-time ADA compliance officer, Christine Montgomery. To each of his questions, she responded:  I don’t know. I’ll have to check. I’ll get back to you.

In the minutes recorded for the committee’s Feb. 28, 2008, meeting, Irvine questioned whether the CTA was interested in what the volunteer members of the advisory group, created as part of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, had to say and whether the nation’s second-largest mass transit system was doing what it should to be accessible.

Irvine was upset the CTA was not taking complaints or recommendations from committee members seriously. He said, “The CTA should strive to make changes, implementing stronger policies for people with disabilities… the committee should push the CTA as much as possible.”

In 2008, the committee got the CTA to change its boarding policy to allow customers with disabilities to get on buses and trains first, and, at the committee’s insistence, the CTA also agreed to overhaul its Web site to make it more accessible and do what’s required under the Illinois Information and Technology Act.

But Irvine, who joined the committee in 2005, says the CTA should be doing more to improve its service to the hundreds of thousand of disabled who live in the Chicagoland area.

Members of the ADA Advisory Committee “just want to keep the CTA in check with its accessibility and service its customers with disabilities,” said Irvine, who is also a senior advocate at Equip for Equality, a disability group that sued the Chicago Transit Authority in 2000 for violating the ADA. A settlement was reached in 2001.

Irvine said although the CTA is receptive to complaints, he’s worried they are not directed to the right people and that no one within the CTA is analyzing ADA-related complaints, which numbered 402 in 2008.

“We want to make sure they’re [the CTA] looking for patterns of problems. If they get 20 complaints on a particular issue, they are aware that this is just more than an isolated problem and will require more than an isolated solution,” said Irvine.

Despite repeated requests, the CTA declined to comment on how it handles complaints or its interaction with the advisory committee.

Irvine said the committee regularly meets, usually quarterly, and more frequently if necessary. But according to records provided by the CTA, it did not meet the entire year of 2004 and held three meetings each year in 2007 and 2008. It’s unclear when the advisory committee began meeting in the 1990s or how often it met throughout that decade because the CTA could not locate any minutes before 2002.

The next advisory meeting, held at CTA headquarters, is 1:30 p.m. May 18, 2009.

Irvine said one of the biggest challenges in improving the transit-system is that people who experience problems on the CTA don’t always complain.

“Either people don’t complain because they don’t think it’s worthwhile, or they don’t have time. Or they complain, but they don’t complain with enough specificity to allow action on their complaint.”

Another member of the ADA Advisory Committee agrees, saying he makes it a point to report the problems he encounters.

Jim Watkins, co-chairman of the Regional Transit Authority’s ADA Advisory Committee, attended the CTA committee meeting last year at which Irvine lamented the CTA’s inaction. Watkins told the committee he had experienced two bus lift failures the week before the meeting and wanted to know when the CTA intended to retire the buses with lifts.

Watkins didn’t get an answer because, as was noted in the minutes of the meeting, the CTA did not send any personnel from the bus garages or management that could address his concerns. Four CTA staff members, however, were present, the minutes noted. At the next committee meeting July 28, 2008, the CTA sent 24 staff members.

“If people from the departments actually came to meetings, so much more would get done,” said Watkins, who uses a motorized scooter.

He also said it’s up to the disabled community, too, to keep the pressure on the CTA.

“If tomorrow we [the committee] just stopped, would the CTA go back to [the way] they were? Yes. Absolutely,” said Watkins.

Elizabeth Czupta and Eli Kaberon contributed to this report.

Contact Kirsten Steinbeck at

Check out the rest of the CTA investigation:

Investigation Finds Handicapped Accessibility Issues Plague CTA by Zach Wilmes

Broken CTA Facilities, Slow Repairs Create Problems for Disabled Customers by Elizabeth Czupta

Complaints Against CTA Keep Climbing by Danielle Desjardins and Kaitlyn McAvoy

Injury and Equipment Breakdowns Continue to Trouble Some Disabled CTA Riders by Kirsten Steinbeck

Disabled Riders Experience Years of Inconsistency in CTA Service by Danielle Desjardins

Advisory Group Works to Improve Access for Disabled CTA Riders by Kirsten Steinbeck

ChicagoTalks Video: CTA Improves But Some Disabled Still Complain by Elizabeth Czupta

INVESTIGATION: Disabled And Downtown On The CTA by Eli Kaberon

INVESTIGATION: The Inaccessible CTA by Kaitlyn McAvoy

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