By Jason A. Smith
After being denied service on Henry County Transit buses last week, David Washington said he is "quite elated" he will, once again, be able to use city-sponsored transportation.
The 65-year-old Stockbridge man began using the system five years ago, and he had done so "without incident," until March 18.
That day Washington, who weighs more than 600 pounds and uses a wheelchair, had ridden one of the county's buses to the Department of Driver Services' office in Locust Grove. He was then brought back to his Stockbridge home, where he lives alone.
A frequent passenger on the buses, Washington said he was "surprised" when he was notified he would not be allowed to ride he buses anymore.
"All of a sudden, I get a letter ... saying they were suspending service to me," he said.
Henry County Spokesperson Julie Hoover-Ernst said the decision came as a result of feedback from several bus drivers, who expressed "concerns that the lifts seemed to be straining."
Washington was then told he was "over capacity" for the weight allowed by the buses' lifts.
However, said Washington, he later discovered that was not the case, and took his concerns to Henry County Transit Director David Williamson, in hopes of getting his service reinstated.
Williamson declined making any comments to the Henry Daily Herald on the issue.
"They [Henry County Transit personnel] said, with the chair, I weighed 680 pounds," Washington said. "The weight limit, with the type of lift they have on the bus, is 750 pounds."
Johnny Leveritte, superintendent of the C-TRAN bus system used by Clayton County, agreed that most bus lifts can support more than 700 pounds. However, he said the guidelines of the Federal Transportation Administration, by which C-TRAN operates, recommends a maximum of 600 pounds.
"Most lift manufacturers and transit agencies have been using that guideline since then," Leveritte explained.
The superintendent said officials at C-TRAN, which began service to Clayton residents in October, hope to never have to deny service to anyone based on their weight. Still, he said officials, who are considering purchasing new buses in the near future, may have to consider the issue.
Hoover-Ernst explained that Henry county's policy regarding the weight limit on the buses, is "not based on what the lift can sustain," but on federal guidelines established in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The legislation advocates a weight limit of 600 pounds for bus lifts. The county's policy, Hoover-Ernst said, adheres to that guideline, with bus passengers' well-being in mind.
"Citizens, when they ride on these buses, need to be reasonably assured of their safety," she said. "It's not just the lifts we're concerned with, but the safety straps that hold the wheelchair in place. This is not something we take lightly, or that we wanted to do, but we have to ensure that every safety mechanism in place ... can support [Washington's] weight."
County authorities Friday further examined the security of the straps and the lifts, and determined they "can safely support passengers in wheelchairs up to 800 pounds." As such, Henry County Transit officials immediately reinstated Washington, with their apologies.
Although the Stockbridge man "wasn't pleased" when he was initially denied service on the buses, he said he is glad he took action.
"I hope it doesn't happen again, but you never know," Washington said. "I've been surprised before."
Washington said, upon hearing the news of his reinstatement, he immediately scheduled a doctor's appointment for Tuesday. He will be taking the bus.