Attorneys for the Metro system have asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss the main counts of a lawsuit filed by riders who depend on the transit agency's service for the disabled, arguing that poor service does not violate the riders' fundamental rights.
Under federal law, Metro is required to offer alternative service for those whose disabilities prevent them from riding a bus or the subway. The service, called MetroAccess, is provided by a fleet of sedans, taxis and customized vans.
The lawsuit alleges that the service is so unreliable it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Metro's motion, filed last month, comes after a Washington Post investigation described management problems with the MetroAccess program.
At the time, Metro chief executive Richard A. White conceded that the program had problems and vowed to fix them, saying he wanted to work with riders to settle the lawsuit. The agency is seeking a new contractor to manage the service.
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein declined to comment on the agency's legal strategy.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. declined to rule on the motion, instead ordering the two parties to continue mediation efforts aimed at reaching a settlement.
Metro and the plaintiffs are relying on a 2004 Supreme Court case, Tennessee v. Lane, in which a divided court upheld the rights of disabled people to sue state governments that fail to provide ramps, elevators or other forms of access to courthouses.
Metro argues that, unlike access to a courthouse, access to transportation is not a fundamental right. None of the 14 plaintiffs "alleges that he or she uses MetroAccess to secure rides to the courthouse or polling places," nor does MetroAccess have any legal responsibility to get them there, Metro says in its motion.
The Disability Rights Project, which is representing the riders, disagrees. "With transportation, of course fundamental rights are involved," said Director E. Elaine Gardner. "You can't go to the court unless you can get there, and you can't go to vote unless you get your MetroAccess ride."
-- Jo Becker