Anger Flares at NWICA Public Hearing
BY SUSAN BROWN
219.836.3780 | Friday, December 12, 2008
week in Hammond, more than 30 users of Lake County's imperiled transit
system turned out Thursday for a public hearing on the issue in
Hammond Transit, a fixed-route system, last week held its initial public hearing on ending service June 30. Northwest Indiana Community Action on Thursday took its first public input on plans to end on-demand bus service even earlier, on Jan. 30.
As in Hammond, no elected decision-makers attended to hear bus riders' concerns, leading to questions regarding the purpose of the public hearing.
Transit officials say the federal government requires one public hearing whenever a bus provider reduces services or increases fares. Both bus providers will hold a second public hearing in compliance with consent decrees reached with Everybody Counts Inc.
Unlike Hammond officials, NWICA Executive Director Gary Olund said Thursday no final decision has been reached and the input from the public would be considered.
Prior to the hearing, however, Olund conceded the future looks bleak. Any rescue by the state Legislature after January would come too late to save NWICA's service, he said. The state's fiscal year does not begin until July.
Olund said local government funding, never adequate to begin with, has dwindled to a level where NWICA can no longer operate the service.
All decision-makers on the issue, from state lawmakers to key local officials, had been e-mailed notices of Thursday's hearing, Olund said.
None showed, a fact that drew attention as emotions heated up.
Violet Franczak, of Merrillville, said it was disappointing no politicians had shown up.
"They ought to be ashamed," she said. "We've got to lean on these politicians. They've got the money. Don't kid yourself."
Rosalie Jamieson Smith, of Gary, urged people to march on Gary City Hall.
"We have to do something," she said. "It's already been decided."
Blair Clifford, of Hobart, questioned the motivation of those withholding the funding for transportation, saying it demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for people.
Clifford said the government is spending taxpayer dollars on "a bailout for Wall Street and this wasteful war."
"We've got to lean on the media and elected officials to stop this," Clifford said.
Others questioned NWICA's preparation for the crisis.
"Once you knew of the situation, what did you do?" asked Diana Virijevich, of Schererville.
Virijevich questioned whether NWICA officials had reallocated funds or cut spending to continue the transportation service, which ranks only behind meals on NWICA's list of services provided.
Longtime NWICA riders, such as Carolyn Clark, of Merrillville, pleaded for NWICA to somehow continue the service even if riders needed to scrap up another dollar to two in fares.
Hammond community activist George Janiec, who needs a wheelchair, spoke on behalf of the disabled and also the elderly who he said deserve to be able to get around and enjoy all the good things in life.
Janiec posed a number of questions to Olund, including who holds the responsibility for paying $135,000 in penalties owed to the federal government in the wake of ending the service. Janiec charged politicians with contriving a disaster and using people's lives as a gambit.
Janet Nevitt, a social worker at a Merrillville dialysis center, pleaded for help on behalf of her many patients.
"Without transportation services, I don't know what my patients are going to do," she said. IF YOU GO
Northwest Indiana Community Action
will hold a second public hearing
from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday
in the Calumet Conference Center
of Purdue University Calumet,
2300 173rd St., Hammond
Same game, different name
BY TERESA TORRES
Executive Director, Everybody Counts | Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that unless universal human rights have meaning in small places, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, she said, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
Here in Northwest Indiana, we've grown accustomed to what some have called a culture of corruption and accepting of an isolated second class citizenship.
We're often too ready to forgive and too quick to forget, telling ourselves it's just the way things are done here.
Just months after Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority officials said they were "extremely disappointed" in the Regional Bus Authority's performance, shortly after a state legislator demanded an fiscal audit of the millions of dollars that have been spent, after years of refusal to discuss the same federal law which resulted in a decade of attorney fees paid by local transit providers to avoid compliance, we've been told that the RBA has gotten its act together enough to take over and run local bus services.
In truth, many of the politically appointed members are sincerely well-intentioned. But some are the very same people who are responsible for the ineffective transit systems we now have, those who have long evidenced disregard and disdain for their own ridership. After lots of smoke and mirrors, nothing tangible has been achieved.
A cost-effective regional bus system in Northwest Indiana makes good sense. But those in charge have to be willing to do things differently, not just the same thing under a different name. Many communities have learned how to work together to ensure that their citizens adequate access to public transportation that serves all of their people. Our inability to achieve that objective is largely due to the same factors which always seem to keep us a few steps behind.
Those who are dependent upon public transportation have been thrown into a well-planned panic. The Regional Bus Authority, they are told, is our only hope. This may all just be politics as usual, but it's also quite literally life and death to some of our senior citizens, and many with disabilities. As one woman who attended a recent public hearing asked, why create a crisis before finding a solution?
We wholeheartedly support the need for a regional bus system. But that system must be fully accessible to all of the people, and that's not going to happen as long as decision-makers continue to relegate the ridership to a level of irrelevancy that cannot be justified.
And it must be managed by qualified people who are willing to learn how to change the way we do business.
Operating in arrogant isolation, the RBA has had no interaction with, and therefore no input from, the very people whose interests it was designed to protect. It has failed miserably to obtain local buy-in. Why pay big bucks for a "feasibility study" but refuse to listen to the ridership? Why pay someone to come up with a name and logo instead of sponsoring a local contest for our talented youth? Why use stock advertising agency photos instead of local residents?
While joking about holding future meetings in Fort Lauderdale, members throw around words like "stakeholder" when what they really mean is "people we like" or "the people we invite to the table."
Napoleon Hill said that the quality and quantity of the service you render is the only standard by which your pay should be fixed, that money is either a good or a bad influence, according to the character of those who possess it.
That also applies to those who control it.
The RBA must truly inform and work with all interested citizens. We should expect or accept no less. Teresa Torres is executive director of Everybody Counts. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.
Paratransit service may stop
November 8, 2008
Northwest Indiana Community Action may abandon its transit service after Jan. 30.
The service has been making noise about possible cutbacks for weeks, warning that the voluntary support it gets from the cities it serves has been dwindling to unsupportable levels.
The agency will run a legal notice in Monday's Post-Tribune advertising the date, time and location for two public meetings it will hold to gather public input.
The meetings are required by the consent decree issued in federal court on behalf of Everybody Counts, which had sued several transit agencies in the area over non-compliance with disability access laws.
Teresa Torres, executive director for Everybody Counts, said that the service cuts might not have been necessary had the agency complied with other provisions of the federal consent decree designed to improve the scope and efficiency of the transit service.
The advocacy group is preparing to go back to court over what it says is widespread non-compliance with the terms of the court-imposed agreement.
NWICA serves as a dial-a-ride transit provider, particularly for disabled residents, throughout northeast Lake County, including Gary, Merrillville and Hobart.
Asked if there was some emergency source of money, Dennis Rittenmeyer, chairman of the Regional Bus Authority, said, "I think as a practical matter, the answer is no, unless there's a change of heart by some key folks."
Gary Olund, executive director of NWICA, could not be reached for comment.
Contact Erik Potter at 648-3120, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.post-trib.com.
Group to shut down demand bus service
BY SUSAN BROWN
219.836.3780 | Saturday, November 08, 2008
The city of Hammond, meanwhile, will reduce its fixed-route bus service Jan. 1 and discontinue all service by July 1. Bus service in the cities of Gary and East Chicago also appears at risk.
NWICA, the area's largest provider of demand service, offers curb-to-curb transportation for the elderly, physically/mentally handicapped and nondisabled residents in Lake County. NWICA reported making nearly 90,000 trips in 2006.
Steven Siros, an attorney with the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block, was notified of NWICA's plans in a letter dated Nov. 4 from NWICA attorney David Beach, who could not be reached Friday.
"We've been advised NWICA is proposing to terminate the service due to the inability to obtain funding from local sources," Siros confirmed Friday. Siros represents the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit that had argued area transit agencies were not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Under the subsequent federal consent decree agreed to by the transit agencies, including NWICA, public hearings are required in the event of change in services. Two public hearings on NWICA's plans have been scheduled for December.
NWICA Executive Director Gary Olund was reported out of town Friday, but even if Olund were available, Executive Assistant Melissa Bohacek said comment was likely to be withheld until after publication of a legal notice in area newspapers, which is expected Monday.
"Had they worked with us per the consent decree, there may not have been the need to take such drastic action," said Teresa Torres, executive director for Everybody Counts Inc., which was instrumental in the class action suit that led to the consent decree. The agreement included requirements for the agencies to form ridership councils to increase ridership and promote awareness of transit services for the disabled.
In recent weeks, Torres has contended the transit companies are not complying with the consent decree, which could force her agency to return to court. On Friday, Torres joined Siros in saying the shutdown in services may be related to a concerted effort by local authorities to force the hand of the state to fund the Regional Bus Authority.
"Northwest Indiana is in the process of destroying itself," RBA President Dennis Rittenmeyer said of the latest transit shutdown. "We are willing to step in and operate bus service if we are funded, but our efforts in securing funding have been rebuffed."
Rittenmeyer said the RBA has not given up, but even the initiatives the RBA is getting under way would require local money to leverage the state and federal dollars.
NWICA relies on contributions by local government, which is cutting back because of the demands of the property tax relief legislation, he said.
"Our legislative process, which should yield an improved quality of life, has failed miserably on the issue of transportation and continues to do so," Rittenmeyer said.
Rittenmeyer said all citizens lose with the lack of public transportation but particularly those who need what limited service has been available. NWICA public hearings:
2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 11 at the St. John Township
Community Center, U.S. 30 west of U.S. 41,
Also, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 16 at Purdue
University Calumet, 2300 173rd St., Hammond
M'ville ADA panel progressing
BY CHAS REILLY
219.662.5324 | Sunday, November 02, 2008
MERRILLVILLE | As
the Merrillville Americans with Disabilities Act Committee continues
to develop, the committee chairwoman is working to establish goals
she wants the committee to complete.
After having two informational meetings about the committee, Chairwoman Teresa Torres received several applications from people interested in serving as a member.
Torres said she will give the applications to Town Council members, who will then appoint committee members.
According to the town's description of the committee, most committee members should be people with disabilities.
Torres said within the next year she wants the committee to have an Americans with Disabilities Act training session so government officials, area business owners and others can better understand the law.
Torres also plans to visit local nursing homes to inform residents about the committee and give them an opportunity to discuss issues.
Starting early next year, Torres wants to establish regular meetings.
Torres would like to work with other communities that have a similar panel devoted to helping residents with disabilities.
East Chicago Human Rights Commission Director Fred Vasquez said the Mayor's Committee for Disabilities also looks to partner with another committee to host a joint workshop.
He said the East Chicago committee started some new programs, including sending a quarterly newsletter informing residents of the group.
Torres said once the Merrillville committee completes some projects, she intends to share that information with other communities that might be interested in conducting similar projects. Committee information
For more information about the Merrillville Americans with Disabilities Act Committee, contact (219) 769-5055 or visit merrillville.in.gov.
For more information about the East Chicago Mayor's Committee for Disability, contact (219) 391-8477 or visit eastchicago.com
Copyright © 2008 nwi.com
Advocates Say Plan To Cut
Bus Service Violates Deal With Disabled
October 31, 2008
By Andy Grimm Post-Tribune staff writer
HAMMOND -- The bus stops here, or at least that's what local advocates for the disabled fear.
A plan to slash funding for the Hammond Transit System violates terms of a court order that ended a lawsuit filed by disabled groups 12 year ago, said Teresa Torres, executive director of Everybody Counts, a Merrillville-based not-for-profit.
The move to cut funding for the bus system, and dramatically cut service starting next year, comes after years of failed negotiations with disabled groups and their attorneys, who in 1997 sued the city and transit agencies across the region for violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Even after reaching settlement with the transit officials two years ago, officials in Hammond and elsewhere have done "almost nothing" to meet the terms of the agreement, Torres complained.
"We have been ignored, even after the consent decree," Torres said on Thursday, after a meeting at Hammond City Hall. Torres had invited Mayor Thomas McDermott and city attorneys and transit officials. Only city council members Kim Poland and Bob Markovich showed up.
"We will be back in court by the end of the year -- again," she said.
Torres said Hammond is not alone, as mismanagement and budget cuts threaten bus service across the region. Torres already has complained to officials from the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and Regional Bus Authority about continued non-compliance with terms of the federal consent decree.
Transit officials have done little to make service more accessible, and have not offered additional training for employees and established panels of transit users to discuss service issues, both requirements of the consent decree.
In the 2009 budget presented by McDermott, transit funding from the city's general fund has been reduced to $0, with all funds coming from casino money, said Poland, who said she is concerned there won't be enough money from the casino funds to maintain service.
"Hammond is the first place for the ax to fall," Torres said. "Hammond could be the first place to provide a solution."
No-shows noticed at meeting
BY LUANN FRANKLIN
Times Correspondent | Friday, October 31, 2008
HAMMOND | Thursday
afternoon's planned meeting between the Hammond City Council and
representatives of Everybody Counts advocacy group for people with
disabilities proved to be lacking many city officials.
Only Councilwoman Kimberly Poland of the 4th District and Robert Markovich, councilman-at-large, showed up for the 2 p.m. meeting. The occassion was to discuss pending cuts in the city's bus transportation and Hammond's noncompliance with a federal court order to provide public transportation for those with disabilities.
Poland said all nine council members were invited to the meeting as were Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Keith Matasovsky, director of the Hammond Transit System.
"That's a statement in-and-of itself," said Teresa Torres, executive director of Everybody Counts, who asked to meet with the council.
In 2006, a federal judge ordered the city of Hammond and the Hammond Transit System to provide fixed public transportation accessible to citizens with disabilities and to establish a Council on Accessible Transportation. The judgment came after Everybody Counts filed a class action lawsuit in 1998 alleging transportation systems in Northwest Indiana violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hammond has not complied with any part of the consent decree, according to Torres. She added the HTS is planning to cut service without properly notifying the ridership nor allowing riders to give public comment.
That doesn't comply with the federal court order, she said. The consent decree states specific kinds of public notice are required prior to any change in bus services and the HTS must solicit public comment.
On Friday, a legal notice announced proposed cuts in bus services from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2009. A public hearing is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 4 at the Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety meeting.
The board of public works "is going to make its decision during that meeting," Torres said. "That's not getting public comment."
Several public meetings should be held at times convenient for those who ride the buses, in accordance with the federal consent decree Hammond officials signed in 2006, she said.
"These are short term issues. We need to ensure that the affected persons are able to comment," Torres said.
Attorney Steve Cyprus of the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block is providing pro bono legal counsel for Everybody Counts. He said via a phone conversation at the meeting if Hammond doesn't comply with the 2006 consent decree, the matter will be taken back to federal court.
Then, Cyprus said, the judge could order the city to pay all legal fees, including those of Jenner & Block Normally that cost is about $500 an hour, he said. And those fees could be ordered paid retro-active to the court date, Cyprus said.
Bus routes get pared down in Hammond
BY SUSAN BROWN
219.836.3780 | Tuesday, October 28, 2008
HAMMOND | The city is
closer to having to return to court over a federal consent decree
ordering compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On Monday, Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres sat in on the public caucus portion of the City Council's only regular meeting this month. Torres' agency and its supporters had filed a class-action lawsuit against several transit companies on behalf of the disabled in 1998.
Torres said she was there to ask again for a meeting with the city in connection with the subsequent consent decree that orders several transit companies, including Hammond's, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some 10 days ago, Torres had put the transit companies on notice that their alleged failure to fully comply with the decree may have her agency heading back to court by the end of the year.
Among other complaints, Torres has contended the transit companies have failed to organize the readership councils they agreed to in the consent decree. The readership councils were intended to increase both awareness of the services for the disabled and subsequently increase ridership.
Torres on Monday also chastised the city for ignoring a requirement of the consent decree that requires any legal notices posted in newspapers must be supplemented by news releases and public service announcements summarizing the information being posted.
Torres said a legal notice announcing reductions in and eliminations of bus services was published last week without accompanying news releases and public service announcements.
In addition, Torres said the published time of the public hearing set on the matter -- 9 a.m. on a Thursday -- was not conducive to the hearing being well attended.
During the caucus, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. indicated he believed the matter had been sufficiently covered by the media throughout the controversy. The council, meanwhile, failed to satisfy Torres' request for definitive action on the matter.
"I am appalled by Mayor McDermott's obvious apathy and the council's apparent inability to take responsibility for actions being taken by a city department that will have significant negative (impact) on so many of Hammond's citizens," Torres said following the caucus.
Torres indicated she will not seek any further meetings with city officials but instead rely on the courts.
Information contained in the legal notice had been sought by The Times prior to last week without success. BUS SERVICE CHANGES
The legal notice announces the these changes in route service as of Jan. 1, 2009:
- Elimination of all Saturday fixed route and paratransit services: Route 6, operating Saturday only, will be eliminated; Route 1-C and Route 1-D will be eliminated during the weekday service, reducing Route 1 services to an hourly basis.
A public hearing will be at 9 a.m. Dec. 4 at a meeting of the Hammond Board of Works and Safety at City Hall. Written views and comments will be accepted at the Dan Rabin Center or by calling Transit Director Keith Matasovsky at (219) 853-6514 or Allen Hammond, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission compliance officer, at (219) 763-6060, ext. 141.
Group challenges compliance with ADA settlements
BY SUSAN BROWN
219.836.3780 | Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Two years after a federal court approved consent decrees stemming from a
class action lawsuit on behalf of the disabled, the case may be heading
back to court.
U.S. District Judge Philip Simon in May 2007 approved the last of several settlements involving the disabled, area transit companies, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, which funnels the federal dollars to the transit providers, and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Launched by the advocacy group of Everybody Counts Inc., and supporters in 1998, the lawsuit contended the defendants were not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The settlements avoided complex trial litigation, but Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres is contending NIRPC and the transit companies have since avoided full compliance with the consent decrees. The transit agencies include those operated by Gary, Hammond and East Chicago as well as the Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp.
The most immediate point of contention appears to be NIRPC's notice of intent to conduct the second of the annual public hearings required by its consent degree.
Torres charged NIRPC with failing in its outreach duties, such as providing the required notice of the meeting to ridership lists and service organizations. Discussions to hold the meetings in a location accessible to the disabled have failed, she said.
"That's all we wanted and we don't think that's asking too much," Torres said.
NIRPC attorney David Hollenbeck on Monday confirmed receiving a letter from Everybody Counts attorney Steven Siros of the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block.
Hollenbeck said the letter from Siros contained questions and concerns about the public hearing. "NIRPC and I will meet soon to go over those questions and concerns," he said.
The settlements, agreed to by each defendant individually, also include the formation of ridership councils to suggest ways to improve service.
While NIRPC is alleged to have failed in getting the word out, transit directors are charged with not being diligent in organizing the ridership councils, intended to increase awareness and subsequently ridership.
"If there is not adequate sufficient resolution of the most significant of our concerns, it will be back before the federal court by the end of the year," Torres said Monday.
Town seeking residents to serve on new committee
219.662.5324 | Tuesday, October 14, 2008
MERRILLVILLE | There may not have been a large crowd at the first informational meeting about the town's Americans with Disabilities Act Committee, but there was no shortage of ideas from the committee's chairwoman and potential members.
Teresa Torres, who was appointed chairwoman of the ADA Committee in August, said she conducted the meeting Monday at Everybody Counts, 9111 Broadway, to find out who was interested in serving on the committee as well as their ideas for potential projects.
Torres said some people weren't able to attend the meeting, so she plans to go to places such as nursing homes to inform residents about the group.
She also wants to conduct training sessions about the Americans with Disabilities Act so town officials, Merrillville businesses and residents will have a better knowledge of it.
Torres and others at the meeting suggested a project where committee members would go to local businesses to help them find out if they completely comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Torres said some businesses may comply with some aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but not with others.
There were suggestions of giving stickers to businesses that do comply so they can post them in their windows. Another suggestion was to make a guide showing which businesses comply with the act.
Torres said once committee members have completed some projects, she wants to share their knowledge with other communities so they can complete similar projects.
There will be another informational meeting about the committee at 1:30 p.m. today at Town Hall, 7820 Broadway.
Town committee to address ADA needs
Sunday, October 12, 2008MERRILLVILLE | Town Council members are seeking assistance from its citizens with disabilities and others interested in serving on the town's Americans with Disabilities Act Committee.
"We're looking for local residents who want to help us ensure that everyone has equal access to the community," said Ron Widing, council president, in a written news release. "We want to be as pro-active as possible to protect the rights of our disabled and senior citizens."
Two informational meetings are scheduled to discuss the committee's purpose and proposed efforts, one at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Everybody Counts, 9111 Broadway, and another at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Merrillville Town Hall, 7820 Broadway.
Applications forms for those interested in serving on the ADA Committee will be available at both meetings and can also be downloaded at http://merrillville.in.gov/departments/boards_commissions/ada_committee.html
The Town Council recently appointed Teresa Torres as chair of the newly formed Merrillville ADA Committee. A long-time Merrillville resident, Torres is director of Everybody Counts, a federally funded agency that has been headquartered in Merrillville since 1986.
Torres has been a strong advocate for the disability community, and her agency has served as a real resource for all of Northwest Indiana, Widing said. "I'm confident that she will help to make this committee a real asset to our community."
Torres said her fist order of business will be to find people who want to work together to identify and suggest ways to eliminate barriers to community access. But, she added, several issues will be a definite priority.
"The town has already been in communication with the Indiana Department of Transportation about the new sidewalks recently installed down Broadway," Torres explained. "They're not only out of compliance with the ADA, they're downright dangerous in some places - and not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone."
Widing said he accompanied Torres and several wheelchair users on the route, and shares their concerns.
"There are some real problems with width, pole placement, curb cuts and sharp drop offs," Widing said. "INDOT representatives promised to get back with me by the end of September, but that didn't happen."
Widing added that he was hopeful that INDOT would recognize the need to take care of the situation as soon as possible, but welcomed assistance from concerned citizens to help stress the urgency.
Torres said that the committee will try to partner not only with town officials, but also with the local business community in future endeavors.
Richard Hardaway, Ward 2 council representative, said he is happy to support Widing's creation of the ADA Committee. "I'm looking forward to their success," he said. "It's important to ensure that we provide equal access for all of out residents."
For more information, call Torres at (219) 769-5055.
- The Times
Merrillville forms disability committee
October 9, 2008
Potential problems with sidewalks on Broadway may have inspired a positive -- the town is now forming its own Americans With Disabilities Committee.
The search is on for anyone interested in serving on the group's board.
Teresa Torres, executive director for Merrillville-based disability rights group Everybody Counts, said she and disabled townspeople contacted council members over concerns about the sidewalks.
Torres said Town Council President Ron Widing took a walk along the road with wheelchair users, and shared their concerns over the sidewalk's height from the road, pole placements and curb cuts.
Torres said she's concerned that if the edge of a wheelchair or a walker or a cane hit the end of the curb, someone could fall into the busy road.
She questions if the sidewalk falls under Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines.
The Indiana Department of Transportation is in charge of Broadway renovations, as it is a state road.
Widing said he was promised by INDOT representatives that they would get back to him by the end of September to discuss the sidewalks, but that has yet to happen.
INDOT spokesman Joshua Bingham said discussions are still ongoing.
Torres said discussions with Merrillville officials led to talks about forming a volunteer committee dedicated to representing townspeople with disabilities. Torres was appointed chairwoman of the committee and is now searching for people interested in joining the committee.
Contact Piet Levy at 648-3102 or email@example.com. Comment on this story at www.post-trib.com.
For more info:
Applications can be downloaded at www.merrillville.in.gov. A link to a description of the Americans with Disabilities Committee can be found on the Boards and Committees page.
Forms can be mailed to: ADA Committee, 7820 Broadway, Merrillville, IN 46410 or e-mailed to: adacommittee@merrillville.
Informational meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Everybody Counts headquarters, 9111 Broadway, and at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall, 7820 Broadway.
Disabled, Public Can Speak Out At Bus
Hearings are part of lawsuit settlement
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 12:34 AM CDT
Public hearings in August will give the
disabled and the public at large a chance to tell bus operators what
has to be done to serve the disabled better.
The hearings are a result of the recent settlement of a lawsuit brought by Everybody Counts Inc., an advocacy group for the disabled, against local bus providers.
Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres called the hearings a "positive first step" in addressing concerns raised in the lawsuit.
"Public transportation throughout Northwest Indiana should and can
be a whole lot more accessible and useable by people with
disabilities," said Torres. "Those who are directly impacted can
play an important role in making the system work better for
Everybody Counts brought suit against the bus providers and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in 1998, claiming the bus providers were not complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act. A federal judge ruled the claims were valid and the settlement was reached in order to avoid a trial.
Defendants in the lawsuit included both urban bus systems and on-demand providers. NIRPC was a defendant because it secures federal transit grants for bus companies.
Information gathered at the August hearings will be used in a review of public transit providers conducted by an Americans with Disabilities Act consultant who was jointly selected by NIRPC and Everybody Counts.
Both NIRPC and local transit providers, which have been invited to attend the hearings, are urging people to attend and voice their opinions on bus services for the disabled.
"Gary Public Transportation Corp. is committed to working with NIRPC and Everybody Counts to improve the services we provide to the disability community," said GPTC General Manager Daryl Lampkins.
Public bus service hearings: Aug. 21
When: noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, 6100 Southport Road, Portage
Public bus service hearings: Aug. 28
When: noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Everybody Counts Inc., 9111 Broadway, Suite A, Merrillville
In addition: Written and taped comments will be accepted by NIRPC now through Sept. 27. Everybody Counts is available to assist those who need help typing or sending remarks.
10-Year-Old Transit Lawsuit Settled
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 12:27 AM CDT
Last of providers settles with advocates for the disabled
The riders and their advocacy organization, Everybody Counts Inc., sued the transportation providers in 1998, claiming the companies were not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws.
Simon ruled that the riders' claims were valid and that the settlement would avoid complex trial litigation that would distract from the greater goal of providing legal transportation.
"I do believe the settlement will
achieve substantial benefits for disabled people in Lake
County," Simon said. "This litigation will hopefully come to an
end after almost 10 years."
After the hearing, two former adversaries -- Everybody Counts Director Teresa Torres and Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp. Director Gary Olund -- met and shook hands.
"Now we move forward. We have the same goals," Olund told Torres.
Outside the courtroom, users of the system were more circumspect.
Timothy Gee, of Hammond, said he was optimistic for the settlement, but would wait to see if promises were met with actions. Christopher Anthony, of Merrillville, said the transportation providers would find themselves in court if they didn't fulfill the agreement.
The consent decree approved Tuesday settles the claims against the community action corporation. Previous settlements have dealt with allegations against public bus companies in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond, and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, which awards federal transit grants.
All of the settlements require the agencies to form councils of riders to make suggestions for improving service. The agreements also include rules allowing riders to file written complaints and require the companies to keep track of their performance.
On Tuesday, Simon thanked the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block for representing Everybody Counts. Attorney Steven Siros said the firm provided about $1.5 million of representation and will collect about $25,000 in fees.
Disabled Rights Lawsuit Ends After 10-Year Battle
May 23, 2007
U.S. District Judge Philip Simon approved a settlement of a class action lawsuit by disabled region residents and an agency responsible for on-demand transit for the poor and handicapped.
The pledge from the Northwest Indiana Community Action Coalition to provide improved service for the handicapped, host sensitivity training for staff and establish a committee of disabled residents to oversee improvements was similar to settlements with the state Department of Transportation, bus companies in Hammond, Gary and East Chicago and other defendants.
A handful of disabled transit users and advocacy group Everybody Counts filed suit in 1997, complaining that regional transit providers weren't in compliance with the now 17-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act.
Gordon Sunny, a Merrillville resident who was one of the original plaintiffs in the suit, said he was pleased to see the lawsuit ended, but remained only cautiously optimistic that services would improve.
"I just want to know that someone like me won't have to fight like I did," said Sunny, 44, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.
NWICAC Director Gary Olund said the case drew out more than 10 years because his agency was concerned it didn't have the staff to provide the services and oversight demanded by the plaintiffs. In the years since the suit was filed, changes already have taken place in the way the agency provides services.
"This settlement is a fair one that will allow us to move forward," he said.
Contact Andy Grimm at 648-3073 or firstname.lastname@example.org