NM: Woman Kept Off Bus; ABQ Ride Says There Wasn't Enough Room for Her Wheelchair

An Albuquerque woman who uses a wheelchair said she was denied access to a crowded city bus even as two other riders were allowed to board at the same stop.

A spokesman for ABQ Ride, which operates the city's bus system, said the driver acted appropriately because crowded conditions on the bus required him to admit only passengers who could stand.

Sharon Brown, 47, said a driver told her Thursday that he could not allow her to board with a wheelchair because the eastbound bus on Lomas NE was too crowded.

"Two other ladies that were standing with me at the bus stop were able to get on, but I wasn't," said Brown, who has severe rheumatoid arthritis and relies on a battery-powered wheelchair.

"Because they were able to walk, they were able to get on the bus," Brown said of the two riders. "My feeling is, if I couldn't get on, they shouldn't have been able to get on either."

Brown said she was turned away from the No. 11 bus at Lomas and Carlisle NE about 5:20 p.m. as she returned home from an appointment with a chiropractor. Instead, Brown caught the next bus about 25 minutes later, she said.

Brown, who relies on buses for daily transportation, said drivers have accommodated her in the past, even when buses are very crowded, by asking passengers to stand or move.

Kathleen Cates, president and CEO of Liferoots Inc., a nonprofit that provides services for the disabled, said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires ABQ Ride to accommodate people with disabilities on an equal basis as other riders.

"You can't say there is room for people who can stand and no room for people who can't," Cates said.

Rick de Reyes, a spokesman for ABQ Ride, said the driver told passengers that the bus had standing-room only. The driver would have had to eject passengers from the bus to accommodate Brown's wheelchair, he said.

"There's nothing in the (ADA) law that says that we must kick off paying passengers who have gotten on at previous stops just to accommodate her," de Reyes said Tuesday.

All city buses are equipped with a lift that can hoist aboard a wheelchair, de Reyes said. Drivers accommodate a wheelchair by raising up two seats, which in this case would have displaced two seated passengers, he said.

"There were no other areas for them to stand," de Reyes said. "The driver felt in that case that we would have to remove people."

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