All Aboard…or Not

As I was cleaning off my desk today, I happened across an interesting ADA-related decision. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. First off, it involves Amtrak, and to be honest there just aren’t a lot of ADA cases filed against Amtrak. Second, it raises some interesting “what if” questions.

The plaintiffs in this case are a group of passengers who wanted to travel by train from Harrisburg to Washington DC. The group consisted of 23 people, including 13 wheelchair-users. Herein lies the problem. They all wanted to travel together in the same car, however in order to do this Amtrak would have to modify the existing accessible seating. Amtrak has the access required under the ADA (one wheelchair space and one wheelchair storage space per car) but they were willing to make modifications for this group. The catch is, they also wanted to charge $200 per ticket to make these modifications.

The passengers claimed this charge was not allowed under the ADA. Amtrak disagreed, so off they went to court.

In the end, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ruled in favor of Amtrak and said the railroad could charge extra fees for seating that is not required by federal law. The passengers, many of who are on fixed incomes, were disappointed; however looking at the larger picture, this decision also raises some interesting questions.

If, as the judge ruled, businesses can impose a surcharge for access modifications above the minimum requirements, what’s to stop a 30-room hotel from charging extra for a room with a roll-in shower? After all, under the ADA, a roll-in shower isn’t required in properties with fewer than 50 rooms.

This decision seems to create more questions than it answers. Will it hold up under future scrutiny? Time will tell, but for now expect to pay extra for group wheelchair-seating on Amtrak.