Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) is pleased to announce Consumers for Accessible Ride Services (CARS) as the honoree for the 2020 Gayle Hafner Grassroots Advocacy Award. This prestigious award honors members of the community who have succeeded in creating substantial positive change for Marylanders with disabilities through grassroots activism. A remarkable team of Baltimore self-advocates with disabilities, CARS is a close partner of Disability Rights Maryland in the struggle for accessible public transit. DRM will present the award to CARS’ Chairman Floyd Hartley, on behalf of the full CARS team, at the virtual 2020 Breaking Barriers Awards Gala on Nov. 12, 2020.
CARS members teamed up with DRM and AARP Foundation Litigation in 2015 to file a lawsuit against the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) in order to resolve critical failures in MTA Mobility services. These failures included widespread, abrupt, and inappropriate denials of eligibility to people who met the criteria for paratransit services, as well as egregiously long telephone hold times for paratransit users. CARS members Floyd Hartley, Debbie Benedaret, Danielle Phelps and Phillip Freeman were the four individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
For people with disabilities in the Baltimore Metro Area, MTA Mobility has been and continues to be a lifeline to essential services. MTA Mobility connects people to vital resources for maintaining their health, employment, ability to visit family and friends, and ability to participate in their communities. When DRM determined that wrongful denials of eligibility to people like Phillip and Debbie were widespread, DRM Director of Litigation Lauren Young took the issue to court, and the plaintiffs reached a settlement with MTA.
In the years that followed, CARS and DRM presented their concerns to the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, and when the MTA failed to meet the requirements of the initial settlement, CARS helped DRM file a breach of settlement to renegotiate with the MTA. Former CARS Chairman Michael Gerlach emphasizes the importance of CARS’s presence in the Baltimore community. “A group like this is desperately needed,” Gerlach says, “because there are so many problems with the MTA, and the average rider doesn’t have anybody to protect them.” He explains, “We advocate for the riders and the community to make sure that their voices are heard.”
This May, after five years of negotiations driven by the experiences and guidance of Marylanders with disabilities, CARS and DRM successfully secured provisions for accountability and oversight to ensure that people like Phillip and Floyd never face this crisis again. The advocacy efforts of DRM and CARS, along with other coalition groups, have won a significant victory for the over 30,000 Marylanders who use paratransit services and a crucial step forward in our community’s fight for access to transportation for all!
The Breaking Barriers Awards Gala is Disability Rights Maryland’s (DRM) signature celebration where individuals, law firms and organizations that have demonstrated exceptional leadership, vision and achievement in safeguarding the legal rights of people with disabilities in Maryland are recognized and honored. To learn more, go to https://www.disabilityrightsmd.org/2020-bb-gala.