Amtrak ends policy that charged passengers with wheelchairs an extra $25,000

Amtrak ends policy that charged passengers with wheelchairs an extra $25,000
A group of protesters, some of them using wheelchairs, held a rally against Amtrak on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, in Normal, Illinois. (Source: WMBD/CNN)

NORMAL, Ill. (CNN/AP) - Following public outcry, Amtrak has apologized and ended a pricing policy that would have resulted in a massive $25,000 upcharge on a trip to Chicago for a group of disability activists who use wheelchairs.

Protesters, some of them using wheelchairs, held a rally Wednesday against Amtrak in Normal, Illinois, after the train company tried to charge five passengers who use wheelchairs $25,000 for a trip that typically costs $16 per person one way.

The trip was from Bloomington-Normal to Chicago.

Because there were already three passengers using the spots designated for wheelchair users, Amtrak said it would need to take a car out of service to accommodate all five disabled passengers. The company told Chicago-based Access Living, a disability advocacy group, that its policy was to charge extra to reconfigure train cars in such a case.

Prior to a policy change last year, Amtrak had absorbed the cost of reconfiguring the cars.

"If a group of non-disabled people traveled together, they’d get a group discount, but if a group of people with wheelchairs travel together, apparently, we get a $25,000 surcharge,” said Adam Ballard, a member of Access Living who uses a wheelchair and intended to travel with the group.

However, Amtrak said Wednesday in a statement the pricing policy wasn’t meant to be applied to Access Living. It also said it would be getting rid of the policy entirely.

Access Living spokeswoman Bridget Hayman says members of the group got “royal treatment” on their trip Wednesday.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., tweeted on Sunday that the $25,000 fee was “outrageous.” She sometimes uses a wheelchair after she lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm in 2004, when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Black Hawk helicopter she was flying in Iraq.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years. Yet in 2020, @Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together," she wrote.

An Amtrak spokesman said Monday that the company was scheduling a meeting with Duckworth’s office to review and discuss its policies for future instances in which its trains may need to transport passengers with disabilities.

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