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(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced he has entered into a settlement agreement with the University of Southern California to improve access to its campus transportation system for individuals with disabilities. The settlement follows an investigation into allegations that transportation vehicles offered by the University to its students, faculty and staff failed to comply with state and federal disabled access laws.
"I am pleased we were able to resolve deficiencies that prevented full access to the University's transportation system for University students, teachers and employees with disabilities," Lockyer said. "Instead of engaging in costly litigation, the University took a positive approach and agreed to make changes that we believe will provide greater access to its trams, campus cruiser and vanpool programs. This was the right thing to do."
The agreement makes improvements to three components of the University's transportation system. The University's tram service has 17 trams that students, faculty and staff can use at no charge to travel on fixed routes around or near the University Park and Health Science Campuses. The routes are between the University Park and Health Science Campuses and to and from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Currently, six of the trams are not equipped with lifts or ramps, rendering them inaccessible to individuals who use wheelchairs. Under a time-table specified in the settlement, all of the inaccessible trams will be made accessible to those who use wheelchairs by October 2005.
Improvements also will be made to the University's campus cruiser and vanpool programs. The campus cruiser program is composed of a fleet of vehicles that are available free of charge to escort students, faculty and staff in and around University Park and Health Science Campuses in the evening and early morning hours. Currently, none of the campus cruiser vehicles are accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs. Under the settlement, the University will acquire an accessible vehicle for its campus cruiser program by September 1, 2004.
The University's vanpool program is primarily for faculty and staff, but also is offered to students. The vans pick up program participants at fixed locations and transport them to and from the University's Park and Health Science Campuses. None of the vans used in this program are accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs. Under the settlement, the University will promptly acquire a wheelchair-accessible van for its commuter van pool program when an eligible individual with a disability applies to participate in the program.
The settlement also requires the University to advertise on its web site the accessibility of these transportation systems, the options available to individuals with disabilities and where complaints about non-accessibility can be lodged.
In addition, the University has agreed to pay $20,000 in attorney's fees incurred in the investigation.
The California Attorney General has no direct enforcement authority over the federal Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Violations of the ADA, however, constitute violations of two California laws: California Civil Code Section 51, the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on disabilities; and Civil Code Section 54.1, the California Disabled Persons Act guaranteeing individuals with disabilities full and equal access to all public accommodations, including transportation.
Attorney General Lockyer has made enforcing state disabled access laws a priority. This is one of several settlements that he has reached in the past two years in furtherance of his goal to improve compliance with these laws.