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Monday, May 1, 2017

St. Charles streetcar line to be wheelchair-accessible

Posted By on Mon, May 1, 2017 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge Jonah Bascle, who died in 2014, campaigned for ADA accessibility on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Jonah Bascle, who died in 2014, campaigned for ADA accessibility on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.

Following last year's suit against the city and Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to make New Orleans bus stops wheelchair accessible, attorneys representing three wheelchair users had filed a separate suit challenging the city to make its St. Charles Avenue streetcar line compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Attorneys announced today that the city and the RTA have entered into a consent decree, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk, to do just that.

"Accessibility for wheelchair users on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line is long overdue," attorney Andrew Bizer said in a statement. "My clients are excited that in the future they will be able to ride on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar just like everyone else.”
Advocates for ADA compliance have long pushed for the city to update its streetcar lines. A 2011 Gambit cover story profiled Jonah Bascle's campaign for the RTA to make the St. Charles Avenue line ADA-accessible. RTA officials told Gambit the RTA had a "waiver" that exempted the streetcar line, because of its National Register of Historic Places status, from having to make any changes to accommodate wheelchair users.

"Due to the fact that the line has this historic nature and due to its being designated as the longest continuously operating, unchanged rail line in all of the world, the RTA has a waiver for the line specifically as well as the cars themselves," RTA spokeswoman Patrice Bell Mercadel told Gambit.

But according to attorneys from law firm Bizer & DeReus, they discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request that there was no waiver.

Under the terms of the consent decree, the city and RTA will make six streetcar stops wheelchair accessible, including stops at Napoleon, Louisiana and Jackson avenues, plus another stop near the riverbend. The city will have nine months to secure construction bids, and the RTA also will run one streetcar with a wheelchair lift. The city's historic green Perley Thomas cars won't be amended, but a new ADA-compliant car will join the line. After two years, if there's significant demand for more access, the city will add a second wheelchair-accessible car.

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