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COTA's New Assessment Center Worries Disabled Riders

On Wednesday the Central Ohio Transit Authority held a grand opening ceremony for its Mobility Services Facility on Fields Avenue in Columbus. Mobility Services is the part of COTA that provides transportation for disabled riders under the "Mainstream" program. But the addition of a new assessment center has some disabled riders worried. The cavernous 104,000 square-foot building has more than enough room to house the entire fleet of COTA's Mainstream buses — the small buses that transport the disabled. Tucked just inside the main entrance to the building is something new to COTA — it's called the Assessment Center. It sounds like a city street in the Assessment Center and it looks like one, too. There's a street with a traffic light and pedestrian walk / don't walk signals. There are also certain obstacles that a person might encounter: gravel, grass, sand and a broken sidewalk. There are ramps and stairs to maneuver across and there's a COTA bus simulator that the person being evaluated must successfully board, pay the fare and exit. This new simulator environment will tell COTA officials whether a disabled person is or is not qualified for Mainstream service. Carol Perkins is COTA's Director of Mobility Services: "Well actually under the Americans with Disabilities Act it's a requirement that you show that you are not capable riding the bus," Perkins said. But there is concern among some disabled that the system will be used to deny them future Mainstream transportation. George Barnes, chairman of COTA's Accessible Transportation Advisory Council, calls the new Assessment Center "an obstacle course." "A lot of our members have some fear that it's going to result in them losing their eligibility and perhaps other reasons for cutting them off the service so that COTA can cut back on providing the service," Barnes said. "I'm not sure that's going to happen, but we'll just have to wait and see." COTA's Carol Perkins is adamant that that won't happen. "We're not trying to take away service," Perkins said. "We're just trying to follow the guidelines and rules and regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so it's not that we're trying to kick anyone off the service or deny them the opportunity to use the service. But we also have to be very responsible with taxpayer dollars and this gives us the ability to do that." COTA officials said they'll evaluate physical and mental impairments.