“We’re sorry to anyone we’ve offended and we hope to do a better job next time.”
A $6 COMMUTE WITH WI-FI, USB PORTS, AND COCONUT WATER
San Francisco-based Leap aims to create a comfortable lounge, on wheels.
Chris Pangilinan, a former San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency engineer who uses a wheelchair, has alleged that new private bus startup Leap is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As such, Pangilinan recently filed a formal complaint with the Department of Justice.
Leap recently launched its service, offering interested commuters a luxury transit option that includes things like Wi-Fi, more personal space, and refreshments. Leap charges riders $6 per fare (more than double what local buses charge), and riders use the company’s smartphone app to pay for fare or refreshments as well as to monitor when the buses are approaching.
Pangilinan, who moved away from San Francisco before Leap launched its service, said he found the company’s lack of accessibility “pretty shocking.” His complaint alleges that Leap “removed features that made the buses previously wheelchair accessible, such as the front door ramp, and wheelchair securement areas within the vehicle.”
If the Department of Justice (DOJ) finds that Leap is in violation, it could bring fines or a civil lawsuit. The DOJ did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
“I don’t want money or anything, what I want is to make sure that the spirit and the letter of the ADA [is considered] in the way that we build or change our transportation in the country,” Pangilinan told Ars. “If services like Leap are going to become more popular, then it’s harder to fight if we don’t change it.”
Who is a “transportation carrier?”
One 1990 law specifically covers public as well as private transportation companies when it comes to accessibility:
Private entities that are primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and whose operations affect commerce shall not discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of specified transportation services.
However, in the opening line of Leap’s terms of service, the company states (in all caps): “LEAP DOES NOT PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION SERVICES, AND LEAP IS NOT A TRANSPORTATION CARRIER.”
Such language could be an attempt to skirt the law. When asked how it’s possible that Leap is not a transit carrier, CEO Kyle Kirchhoff explained the situation to Ars:
We own them, but lease them to an operator. We pay them to help us manage things like cleaning, driver hiring, background checks, drug testing, maintenance, and storage. That’s the legal text that defines that relationship.
The executive denied that the company removed the buses’ ADA equipment. The company acquired its five buses used from an auction house, which was selling them from the Riverside Transit Agency, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“They all still have ramps,” Kirchhoff said, noting that he had not been contacted by anyone from the DOJ. “Some of the ramps didn’t work when we purchased them. They are used buses. We planned to address this later. As a short term solution, we are removing seats from one of our buses that still has a working ramp to make room for disabled commuters.”
In a prepared statement, the CEO added: “In the future, these considerations will be a high priority during our design process. We’re sorry to anyone we’ve offended and we hope to do a better job next time.