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Jan 22, 2020
Originally published on January 22, 2020 6:51 pm

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Amtrak has announced that it will change a policy that brought it a lot of criticism. It's dumping a new rule that led to two people who use wheelchairs being told they would have to pay $25,000 for a train ticket that usually costs just 16. NPR broke this story last week. Here's Joseph Shapiro from the NPR Investigations Unit with an update.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: A spokesman, Marc Magliari, said Amtrak will end the policy that led to that big bill.

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MARC MAGLIARI: After further review, Amtrak has determined to suspend the policy in question. It was never meant to be applied to this situation, and we apologize for the mistake.

J SHAPIRO: He spoke shortly after a group of people with disabilities demonstrated outside an Amtrak station in Illinois, chanting, we will ride.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We will ride. We will ride.

J SHAPIRO: Adam Ballard was one of them. He was also one of the two wheelchair users who faced that big bill. Ballard is the transportation policy analyst for a disability service and advocacy group, Access Living, in Chicago. Five people in wheelchairs from the group, including Ballard, took the train today from Chicago to the Bloomington-Normal station to attend a statewide conference. And this morning, Ballard said everything went fine when they boarded the train in the dark in Chicago.

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ADAM BALLARD: Yeah, everyone got on the train really great. We were treated like kings and queens.

J SHAPIRO: There was extra staff to help with bags and work the wheelchair lifts.

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BALLARD: And they had extra staff on the train to attend to our every need, so it was not the typical Amtrak ride.

J SHAPIRO: All for that regular $16 ticket - but when the group first booked their tickets, Amtrak said it had room for only three wheelchair users on that train, not five; that it would need to take a car out of service and pull up seats to make more room. That was expensive. And under a new policy, the two riders would have to pay the bill - $25,000. After criticism, including from U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Amtrak, on Monday, waived that fee. Then this afternoon, Amtrak took the added step the demonstrators wanted and said it would end the rule that led to the big bill in the first place.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRAFTWERK'S "FRANZ SCHUBERT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.