Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over $25,000 price tag for wheelchair users

Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over $25,000 price tag for wheelchair users
© Courtesy Sen. Duckworth

Illinois 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 (D) and Dick 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 (D) on Tuesday met with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, a week after Duckworth requested the meeting over an incident in which several disabled advocates were initially told they would be charged $25,000 to ride.

Duckworth, the top Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee and a wheelchair user herself, asked for the meeting after several employees with the accessibility coalition Access Living were initially quoted the price for a trip from Chicago to Bloomington, Ill., that is normally $16.

Although Amtrak later apologized and said the passengers would be allowed to ride at the normal rate, Duckworth, Durbin and Rep. Jesús García (D-Ill.) sent a letter Monday requesting the rail service review its accessibility policies and create a new seat on its board of directors to be filled by a disabled person.

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During the meeting, they said, Anderson committed to several of the letter’s requests, including a policy review and working with the members of Congress who have jurisdiction over Amtrak to create the new board seat, as well as hiring a direct report to the CEO with a focus on accessibility issues.

“I’m glad Mr. Anderson is approaching these issues with the seriousness they deserve and committing to several key accessibility requests that Senator Durbin and I made yesterday. Once implemented, these measures will help Amtrak begin earning back the trust of the disability community after this frustrating and offensive incident,” Duckworth said in a statement.

“It is long past time for Amtrak to implement policies that go above bare minimum federal requirements and do more to protect the dignity of passengers with a disability. I’ll keep working alongside Senator Durbin and Rep. García to hold Amtrak accountable and help make sure that every American is able to access safe and affordable travel—as protected by law,” she added.

“Amtrak made an awful decision when it tried to charge passengers with disabilities $25,000 for a ride from Chicago to Bloomington-Normal,” Durbin said. “I’m glad it corrected this issue and that Mr. Anderson has committed to implementing much needed changes to its accessibility policies.  It’s imperative Amtrak updates its policies to ensure that Americans with disabilities are treated fairly and are able to access Amtrak trains without facing discrimination.”

Anderson said in a statement that he "shared an important and open discussion with Senators Duckworth and Durbin today on an issue we take seriously at Amtrak."

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"While we have made substantial progress on accessibility for customers with disabilities over the past decade, there is always room for improvement, as we saw in this most recent incident," the Amtrak CEO added. "I look forward to working with Senators Duckworth and Durbin on ways to continue to improve the state of our infrastructure and the delivery of our service for customers with disabilities here at Amtrak.”

An Access living spokesperson, meanwhile, told The Hill that the meeting was a "great step."

"We’re grateful for the Congressional offices working on this and to see progress," the spokesperson said. "Access Living aims to work with Amtrak as it revises its policy to accommodate travelers with disabilities, travelling individually or in groups, and will continue pressing for a good result."

The Hill has reached out to Amtrak for comment. 

--This report was updated at 2:42 p.m.