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Amtrak ends policy that led to $25K charge for activists using wheelchairs

Amtrak announced Thursday that it would end a policy that led it to quote a price of $25,000 for a group of activists who use wheelchairs to travel in-state.

Earlier in January, the rail agency told members of Access Living, a Chicago-based organization that lobbies on accessibility issues, that a trip to Bloomington, Ill., would cost them $25,000 due to the cost of removing seats to accommodate their wheelchairs. The regular rate for the trip is $16.

“It was never meant to be applied to this situation and we apologize for that mistake,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told The Associated Press. “We are glad it has all worked out and we were able to accommodate our customers’ trip. We will do better next time. We are America’s Railroad and we want to provide more trips, not fewer.”

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The announcement comes after widespread backlash from disabled activists and a request from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a wheelchair user herself, to meet with Amtrak’s CEO.

“It is outrageous that Amtrak asked a group of passengers with disabilities to pay $25,000 to ride from the City of Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois. It is also disappointing that Amtrak leadership appears to have failed to offer a public apology for its initial mistake,” Duckworth, who lost both legs serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, said in a statement last week.

The activists lauded the move Thursday and indicated they would continue to push for policies advocating greater accessibility.

“We are glad to see Amtrak take the important step to suspend its policy charging customers unreasonably high fees to reconfigure train cars so that they’re accessible to large groups of people who use wheelchairs,” Access Living Communications Director Bridget Hayman told The Hill.

“We hope to work with them on a policy to replace it that clearly states how they plan to accommodate all riders and groups in an equitable way. It’s also extremely important that Amtrak follow through with its commitment to meet with Senator Duckworth to review the policy and access barriers,” she added.

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