[nfbmi-talk] FW: Article from Detroit Free Press News Section 2015 11 29

Fred wurtzel f.wurtzel at comcast.net
Mon Nov 30 18:29:46 UTC 2015



Here is the first of 2 articles from yesterday's Detroit Free Press.  This
is a fairly well balanced article and is very comprehensive in describing
the broad view of the issue.  As Terri Wilcox  stated in a public comment,
"it was accessible and now it is not."  


Warmest Regards,





Is Metro Airport biased against public transit users? Eric D. Lawrence,
Detroit Free Press With his white cane in hand, Fred Wurtzel is on a
mission. Wurtzel, the former head of the National Federation of the Blind of
Michigan, wants to show the challenges facing some disabled riders inside
the Ground Transportation Center at Detroit Metro Airport's McNamara
Terminal garage. A year ago, the Wayne County Airport Authority, citing
safety concerns, moved the bus stop for public transportation providers.
What had been essentially curbside service for riders like 64-year-old
Wurtzel, blind since age 40, now means a walk hundreds of feet farther, past
a line of stops for shuttle buses and an elevator. The Free Press estimated
the distance just to get to an indoor waiting area at five times as far. And
the distance to and from the security area once travelers are inside also is
farther. The Ground Transportation Center is inside one of the world's
largest parking garages. For Wurtzel, the vehicle noise and fumes, which are
often amplified by jets parked at the terminal, create a confusing
environment to navigate. He calls the effect "a wall of sound. 'The noise
levels are just excruciating sometimes,' said Wurtzel, who lives in Lansing
and occasionally flies out of Metro Airport. 'It's so loud, you can hardly
hear the other passengers if there are any other passengers moving ahead of
you. It removes a blind person's primary means of orientation, using their
ears. Wurtzel and others use the public-private AirRide service, a bus
service connecting riders in Ann Arbor to the airport, and disability
advocates want the bus stop returned to the terminal's International
Arrivals area. Their concerns continue to dog the airport authority, which
runs the facility, and are influencing a broader debate about whether the
authority supports or acts as a barrier to regional public transportation.
The authority defends its record, saying it's an industry leader in its
relationship with disabled people and that it values public transportation.
But the authority's decision to move the bus stop has raised concerns. An
initial flurry of letters seeking a resolution to the dispute or advising
against the move came from officials including Gov. Rick Snyder, state
Attorney General Bill Schuette and former U.S. Rep. John Dingell. That has
given way more recently to a Federal Aviation Administration review of
access issues at the airport, federal lawsuits and renewed requests from
state legislators decrying 'discrimination. State Sen. Tom Casperson,
R-Escanaba,'chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and state Rep.
Peter Pettalia, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee, sent a letter to FAA officials, calling on the agency to end the
authority's 'discriminatory practices' against the disabled community. 'As
chairs of the state House and Senate transportation committees, we will not
sit by and watch disabled public transportation users be effectively barred
from using public transportation services, including travel service to DTW,'
reads the Oct. 14 letter. It'says the new location 'is unusable by many
disabled riders, particularly those who wish to maintain their independence
and travel alone. Pettalia, R-Presque Isle,'noted in a follow-up phone
conversation that the distance from the public transportation stop is 'quite
a haul if you're in a handicapped situation. Whether you're in a walker or a
wheelchair, it's quite a challenge. One lawsuit, filed last month against
the airport authority and Delta Air Lines in U.S. District Court by Lansing
resident Paul Palmer, who has cerebral palsy, and Donna Rose, who is blind
and lives in East Lansing, takes issue with the location of the drop off.
The bus stop for public transportation'providers AirRide and the Suburban
Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) is'at'the farthest
possible spot of the Ground Transportation Center away from the terminal.
Despite the lawsuit, the attorney in that case, Jason Turkish of Southfield,
is looking to the FAA. 'The FAA could end this,' he said. 'The FAA has
direct oversight over Detroit Metro Airport. They can order the airport to
make this accessible again, which is what I hope they do. Even airport
authority board member Sue Hall said she would like to see the airport make
some kind of compromise for disabled riders using public transportation,
perhaps dropping those riders closer to an entrance. She noted that the
issue is close to her heart because she has a sister who has been blind
since birth. Airport'says it was obliged to act The airport authority has
maintained since last year that its decision to move the stop was a matter
of safety, and officials point to a handout with 17 photos taken at
different times in the International Arrivals area as proof of unsafe
congestion. 'We have observed numerous recurring instances of AirRide motor
coaches loading or unloading passengers two or three lanes from the curb and
have observed vehicles passing the AirRide bus on the right while
pedestrians are in the street,' airport authority CEO Thomas Naughton said
in the news release announcing the change in September 2014. Naughton, along
with John Hertel, general manager of SMART, and Michael Ford, who was then
head of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) and now is CEO'
of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, signed the
agreement that allowed AirRide to load and unload at that location two years
earlier. The photos, taken in August and September 2014, show numerous cars
parked between AirRide buses and the curb, with some showing two buses in
the same frame. Michael Conway, an airport spokesman, said'that 'when you
see something like that, you have to take action. Critics have asked why the
airport authority did not simply ticket passenger vehicles that were posing
problems. Conway said that although the authority does 'patrol the curb,'
it's not efficient in these situations. Better, he said, to move the buses
to the Ground Transportation Center, which is designed to handle them. When
asked why an employee shuttle, which continues to use the former SMART and
AirRide stop, would not also pose a safety issue, the authority said the
employees do not carry luggage, which means they do not take as long to load
or unload. Conway said the airport authority notified SMART and AirRide
'operated by Michigan Flyer (a partnership whose majority owner is bus
company Indian Trails) and provided through partnership with the Ann Arbor
transit authority 'months'ahead of the switch. But'AirRide, he said, has
'continuously' raised objections. Chad Cushman, vice president of Indian
Trails, said the airport authority never mentioned concerns about safety
before announcing the move. Michigan Flyer'filed'a lawsuit against the
airport authority'this spring,'claiming that the authority was retaliating
against the'service'because of its support for disabled riders in a separate
legal'case involving'conditions at the Ground Transportation Center. AirRide
claims that the authority since has reduced'the amount of time buses could
remain at the curb, causing passengers to miss flights'and forcing buses to
leave before scheduled departure times. But Conway appeared to push back
against AirRide's claims. 'They were isolated from competitive ground
transportation services, and it was right next to the building. Everybody
wants to park right next to the door,' Conway said, noting that SMART has
never complained about the switch. Brian Sadek, the airport authority's
in-house counsel, said the old location might be more convenient for some
people but it's far less safe. Sadek and Conway said the Ground
Transportation Center is specifically designed to handle buses and motor
coaches and includes a tactile strip between the driving/parking area and
the walkway. Sadek said the bus stop for SMART and AirRide was placed
farther from the terminal entrance than other services because SMART and
AirRide make fewer stops there. He said it is good practice to keep the most
frequent users closer to the terminal and that the combined number of trips
for SMART, AirRide and various charter services is approximately 51 per day,
compared to hundreds of stops just for the rental car shuttles. Regarding
the level of service for disabled travelers in the center, Sadek said the
authority goes 'above and beyond the standard we have to meet. Turkish, the
Southfield-based attorney, however, would disagree, and even criticized the
name of the Ground Transportation Center as misleading. 'It's a big name for
a not-very-nice area,' said Turkish, noting the distance and noise that
Wurtzel mentioned as well as the frigid winter-time temperatures that
travelers experience in what is effectively the outer edge of a covered
open-air garage. He said the heaters in the bus stop shelters offer
inadequate heat for conditions. According to Turkish, the real issue is the
airport authority's resistance to public transportation ' a charge the
authority strongly denies ' because of the airport's funding model, which is
reliant in part on revenue from parking and others sources, including its
approximately $1.5 million annual contract with Metro Cab. Conway calls any
suggestion that the contract affects the authority's decisions on this front
a red herring because it's a flat rate. But those critical of the decision
to move the SMART and AirRide bus stop note that Metro Cab and the
affiliated Metro Cars services, which charge rates several times that of
AirRide, oc'cup'y a location immediately outside an access door to get to
the terminal. Some say revenue is key Those critics contend that revenue is
the real issue. They note that any changes in revenue from parking and
concession agreements 'the airport waives fees for public transportation '
affect how much the airlines pay. Turkish said that because of Delta's
position at the airport, it has substantial say-so, and that when more
people use public transportation, it is seen as cutting revenue. Airport
officials are quick to point out that the airport is user-supported '
including through tickets, concessions and landing fees'rather than being
funded directly by'taxpayers. In fact, Delta pays for about 76% of the net
debt service on the bonds that paid for the Ground Transportation Center,
according to Conway, who noted that the airline pays for 100% of the net
debt service on the McNamara Terminal. That debt stems from the more than $1
billion in bonds issued in 1998 'to construct the first phase of the
McNamara Terminal, the attached parking garage, Ground Transportation Center
and other airport capital improvement projects. The associated debt on those
bonds will be retired in 2028. Delta did not return calls seeking comment.
Delta's influence was referenced during an airport board meeting in June on
the topic of a moving walkway that has been idled for years 'although
passing travelers must continue to walk on it ' because of a previous
Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit. Unlike walkways in some other parts
of the airport, it is located in a more narrow area and'forces everyone
trying to pass to travel'on'the moving belts when it's operational, which
can be dangerous for some disabled riders. A recording of the June meeting,
where Wurtzel and his wife, Mary Wurtzel, who is also blind, spoke to the
airport board, included a reference by board members to the airline and its
apparent concerns about the loss of parking spaces if the walkway were to be
retrofitted. Instead, the airport authority plans to remove the walkway,
which is on one of the'floors above the Ground Transportation Center,
although nothing has been finalized, according to Conway. Airport officials
were asked for,'but did not provide, the number of parking spaces that would
be lost if the walkway were to be retrofitted. They'did, however,'reject the
notion that Delta calls the shots, saying, 'We make decisions based on what
we, at the airport authority, believe is in the best interest of all our
customers. But this is not the first time questions have been raised about
what affects decision-making at the airport, particularly regarding revenue.
A February 2013 study created for the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors
Bureau by Wayne State University that weighed the viability of a shuttle
service from downtown Detroit to the airport made several references to the
effect Metro Airport's funding model has on airport authority decisions.
'Because of this model, both the airport and its constituent carriers are
cautious about actions that could negatively affect airport revenues,' the
report said. That report, incidentally, paved the way for Skoot, a shuttle
service that connects certain locations 'hotels, casinos and Cobo Center 'in
downtown Detroit to the airport. The service launched about two years ago,
and owner Greg Bessoni said business has been good in the warm months but
not so good in the winter, aside from the North American International Auto
Show. At $20-$23 each way, a ride on Skoot'is considered a bargain compared
to some other options, although it is not as inexpensive as the $12 ticket
from Ann Arbor to the airport on AirRide. Michael O'Callaghan, executive
vice president and chief operating'officer of the convention and visitors
bureau, said the bureau had set out to expand transportation options for
visitors to the Detroit area'with the 2013 study. O'Callaghan said the
Detroit area can be a tough sell for visitors, in part because of
transportation challenges. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
held its annual youth gathering in Detroit this summer, it cost an estimated
$2 million to provide busing for the 30,000 young Lutherans, he said, noting
that it behooves the region to try to improve its lackluster public
transportation system. One way to do that would be to provide a service like
AirRide to other parts of Metro Detroit, he said. That effort, which
appeared dead a few months ago, may have gotten new life. The RTA had issued
a request for proposal for an express shuttle service to and from the
airport, which would have been modeled on AirRide, from Detroit as well as
Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. But there were no bidders, and the
operators of AirRide, who would have been expected to bid on the service,
even issued a letter of protest, citing an extra permit agreement for bus
operators inserted at the behest of the airport authority as problematic.
Officials with Indian Trails/Michigan Flyer said they felt the agreement was
unreasonable, could leave them open to being charged airport access fees and
was targeted specifically at their service, while the airport authority said
it was only codifying what already takes place in the Ground Transportation
Center. Sadek, the airport attorney, has said the fees would not apply to
the new service. Critics, including Turkish, claim the airport authority
purposely tried to torpedo the RFP process by insisting on the extra
agreement. Sadek called that'claim "very inaccurate. But the RTA is now
planning to rebid the service, although it would likely be limited initially
to Detroit, some time in December. The extra airport authority agreement
will remain despite a request from Indian Trails/Michigan Flyer that it be
dropped. The new RFP would be clearer about funding sources for what the RTA
is calling a demonstration service, and open the process up to a wider array
of vehicles, which would give a company like Skoot an opening, according to
RTA spokesman Travis Gonyou. The RTA hopes to launch the service in 2016.
Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence at freepress.com or'on
Twitter'@_ericdlawrence About the McNamara garage "The McNamara Terminal
Parking Structure is an 89-acre, 10-level facility that opened in February
2002. It is one of the largest parking structures in the world. It includes
a ground transportation center, pedestrian bridge, two luggage check-in
locations, conveyors and bridges to transport luggage, six restrooms, three
offices for parking officials and two electrical substations. The structure
can park 11,489 cars in seven user groups. Source: 2009 Detroit Metropolitan
Airport Accessibility Assessment 

More information about the NFBMI-Talk mailing list