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Reporter's Notebook: Investigating accessibility in public transit

FILE: A man with crutches walks off a bus at a transit hub operated by the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority on August 17, 2023.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
FILE, 2023: A rider exits a bus in Bridgeport. The Federal Transit Administration and Department of Justice are looking into accessibility issues on Greater Bridgeport Transit busses.

It started as a tip: You should look at what’s going on with the bus system in Bridgeport.

Last year, as I was speaking with people about public transportation in Connecticut, and some of the accessibility issues that riders with disabilities face, I received a cryptic piece of information about the bus system in greater Bridgeport.

It was clear there were concerns about equitable access to public transportation. But it took a few months of reporting to uncover the story. Through a series of document requests and on-the-ground interviews, The Accountability Project learned a federal probe is underway into service offered by Greater Bridgeport Transit to riders with disabilities.

We reported on the extent of those problems in a piece published this week, which showed the transit agency missed or denied more than 1,300 trips requested by riders with disabilities in a single year. And more than half of all paratransit buses showed up late.

The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating whether Greater Bridgeport Transit is meeting its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But getting that information was a complicated task. It required digging deeper when public officials wouldn’t answer our questions.

In Connecticut, the state Department of Transportation operates buses in some communities, including New Haven and Hartford. But there are several other transit agencies independent of CTDOT, including Greater Bridgeport Transit.

When we started researching this subject, Greater Bridgeport Transit's general manager invited us for a tour of the main bus terminal. We learned more about day-to-day operations, but little about the problems that have surfaced for riders with disabilities.

It was in a trove of documents where I found what I was looking for. I requested minutes from every monthly meeting of the agency’s board of commissioners over the past five years. These meetings are open to the public, but not well attended. So the minutes are one avenue to understand what took place.

In the minutes, I found two things that caught my eye. One was discussion about a triennial review conducted by the Federal Transit Administration. It identified constraints on the capacity of paratransit service in the region. The other was repeated mention of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

These details allowed us to identify more documentation we needed to gather, and eventually, to sit down with the transit agency to talk about what we found.

We still don’t know everything about the nature of the federal probe, but with persistence, we were able to communicate key details to our audience. And we reported on how unreliable bus service makes life harder for riders with mobility challenges. We’ll continue digging into the details, and reporting on how this service can improve to better serve the public.

Bria Lloyd joined Connecticut Public as an investigative reporter for The Accountability Project in November 2022. She’s also the co-host of the station’s limited series podcast, 'In Absentia'.

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