Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted $25K ticket price

Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted $25K ticket price
© Greg Nash

Illinois Democratic Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthIllinois governor endorses Biden one day before primary Trump weighs in on airport screening delays: 'We must get it right. Safety first!' Returning Americans face long screening lines at airports MORE and Richard DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children Legal immigrants at risk of losing status during coronavirus pandemic MORE joined Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D) in calling on Amtrak to review its policies on disability accessibility after a group of wheelchair users was briefly told they would be charged $25,000 to travel from Chicago to Bloomington, Ill.

In the letter, Duckworth, the top Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, joins Durbin and Garcia in calling the incident “particularly frustrating” after an earlier investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that found Amtrak has failed to make its intercity rail stations properly accessible.

“We are deeply disappointed by Amtrak’s initial quote of $25,000 that was offered to a group of disability advocates — five of whom use wheelchairs — when seeking to purchase tickets and arrange for reasonable accommodations to travel aboard Amtrak’s Lincoln Service from the City of Chicago to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois,” they wrote. “The time has come for Amtrak to hold itself accountable for making intercity passenger rail readily accessible to all Americans.”

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The three lawmakers called on the rail service to review its national disability policy and institute further changes that “go above and beyond the bare minimum Federal requirements to establish Amtrak as the premier transportation option for all travelers, particularly passengers with disabilities.”

They also called on Amtrak to create a new position on its executive leadership team that focuses on system-wide improvements to accessibility, as well as working with them on legislation creating a new seat on the rail service’s Board of Directors to be filled by a disabled person.

“Amtrak’s decision to shift accommodation costs onto disabled commuters undermined trust with loyal customers and damaged the Corporation’s brand,” the letter states. “We support your decision to reconsider and end the existing policies and practices that led to the unlawful initial charge to these commuters.”

Amtrak announced last week that it was ending the policy that led to the initial quoted price for members of Access Living, an accessibility nonprofit, after initially saying it was necessary due to the cost of removing seats to accommodate their wheelchairs.

“It was never meant to be applied to this situation and we apologize for that mistake,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told The Associated Press last week. “We are glad it has all worked out and we were able to accommodate our customers’ trip. We will do better next time. We are America’s Railroad and we want to provide more trips, not fewer.”

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The Hill has reached out to Amtrak for comment.

"We are glad to see that Sens. Duckworth and Durbin and Rep. Garcia have reached out to Amtrak and greatly appreciate their leadership support," an Access Living official told The Hill.

"In fact, we anticipate that Sen. Duckworth will meet with Amtrak soon – she is scheduling the meeting around the impeachment trial – and it’s extremely important that that meeting takes place," the spokesperson added. "Although the policy that led to the $25K fee has been suspended, we don’t know what will replace it, and we need to make sure that all people with disabilities have the access to transit we deserve," the official said.

Updated at 2:04 p.m.