The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) handed another reversal to bus companies Aug. 4, sending back to the Legislative Assembly a bill that would have given them up to eight more years to make their fleets wheelchair accessible.
The 1996 Law for Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities gave bus companies until 2003 to install wheelchair ramps in all buses, and though the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT) allowed them to push the deadline back an additional three years, only about 12% of the nation’s fleets have ramps (TT, May 29).
Sala IV ruled that extending the deadline to install ramps until 2014 violates Article 33 of the Constitution, which states all people are equal under the law.
The bill, which was sent to the court for review after it was passed in first debate, will go back to the Legislative Assembly for revision, said Vera Solano, a spokeswoman for the assembly.
In June, MOPT began to fine buses without ramps as much as ¢30,000 ($60) and threatened to enforce the equal-access law by taking out of circulation buses that had not added ramps within three months. Bus companies resisted, complaining that by enforcing the law, the ministry could cause a national transportation emergency.
They argued that they could not comply rapidly with the equal-access law because though it was approved 10 years ago, technical specifications for ramps were spelled out only recently (TT, June 2).
In response to the complaints, Access Without Exclusion Party (PASE) legislator Oscar López, who is blind, sponsored the reform in an effort to guarantee eventual compliance with the law (TT, June 30).
MOPT issued about 82 fines before suspending the enforcement program due to negotiations with bus companies and lawmakers.
They started giving fines again last week in Alajuela, a Central Valley province northwest of San José, but then postponed enforcing the law for three more months in order to avoid the transportation emergency bus companies suggested would result, according to the daily La Nación.