PORTLAND -- A Unit 8 investigation has spurred TriMet to reevaluate its policies dealing with the transport of disabled passengers on its LIFT buses.
The agency had insisted it was required to carry only passengers who weighed 600 pounds or less, including the weight of their wheelchairs.
But after Unit 8 investigated a viewer’s complaint and informed the agency about recent U.S. Department of Transportation rules, TriMet consulted with the department and said it will now carry passengers up to the certified capabilities of the lifts on its LIFT buses. That is the current standard required by the U.S. DOT.
The Unit 8 investigation began when a KGW viewer who rides a LIFT bus contacted the station after receiving a letter stating he’d been dropped from the LIFT program because of weight.
Mike Gibbons, 68, has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for the past 19 years. He only has good motion in the hand he uses to control his electric wheelchair.
Gibbons said that for the past 6-and-a-half years, he’s taken TriMet’s LIFT to his volunteer work at Good Samaritan Hospital in Northwest Portland.
“I'm giving something back to the public and it makes me feel good,” Gibbons said.
“That’s the world to Mike, to be able to volunteer,” Gibbon’s wife Sharon said.
Sharon said in July Mike received a letter from TriMet saying that he had to come in to re-certify that he was disabled and that he met the criteria to ride the LIFT.
“We had to get a note from his doctor and come down to TriMet to have him and his wheelchair checked out,” Sharon Gibbons said.
Gibbons passed a test that required him to move into a space with his motorized wheelchair to make sure he wasn’t oversize.
Then, he had to move onto a scale where he was told his weight with his 335-pound motorized wheelchair was too heavy.
Sharron Gibbons said the operator told them that Mike was over the 600-pound limit.
“This was news to me. I’d never heard of a weight limit,” she told Unit 8.
"I don't ever remember getting on the lift and it tilting because of me. You're not going to tip over a bus at 600 pounds, no way,” Mike Gibbons said.
When Unit 8 first contacted the agency, TriMet said it was doing what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires.
“We really have to follow the guidelines of the ADA just to make sure everybody is O.K. and everybody's safe,” TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt told Newschannel 8.
“ADA puts the dimensions for a wheelchair at not more than 600 pounds,” Altstadt continued. “Mike weighed in at 668 pounds.”
After Mike Gibbons contacted Unit 8, KGW reached out to Performance Mobility, a company that installs wheelchair lifts, and discovered that all its lifts had at least an 800-pound capacity.
“All current vehicles and wheelchair lifts are rated at 800 pounds or above not to exceed a thousand pounds,” Performance Mobility salesman Mike Neher said.
The next step was to find out what federal law truly requires.
Unit 8 contacted the U.S. Department of Transportation and discovered that a year ago, the department removed the operational use of the term, “common wheelchairs.” That term was part of an old rule that required transit agencies to carry passengers and wheelchairs up to 600 pounds.
The DOT told Unit 8 that it removed the rule because “most transit systems were acquiring lifts that can accommodate more than 600 pounds, 800 being the norm.”
TriMet is one of those agencies.
Labels on its LIFT buses identify the lifts as Braun Century 2. Those models come with a listed rating of 800 to 1,000 pounds – more than enough to carry passengers like Mike Gibbons.
Several days after Unit 8 alerted TriMet to the updated rules, the agency told us that it would reevaluate its weight restrictions.
Then, in a press release late last week, TriMet said it “has determined it will accommodate his (Mike’s) request for service with his current mobility device.”
That release also recognized the role Unit 8 played in resolving this issue.
“We want to thank our LIFT customer and KGW Reporter Ed Teachout for prompting both our internal review and our helpful dialog with DOT. We will also be reviewing other LIFT customers found to have combined weight mobility devices that exceeded 600 pounds,” said David Trimble, TriMet’s Director of Business Programs.