City Transit Bus System Brought to its' Knees by a Wheelchair Bound Man for Second Time
Las Vegas Tribune
The March 12, Review Journal headline read "Las Vegas jury awards paraplegic $25 million." Last week the company responsible for operating the Citizens Area Transit was hit with a jury verdict in favor of a disabled man who was injured while trying to board a city bus. It was only ten years earlier that the predecessor company to CAT was also the loser in a similar case when a paraplegic was injured while riding on a bus. Only this time, in 1989, the transit bus company was forced to go out of business by complications arising from the incident.
Prior to CAT, our county suffered with the worse transit bus system in the US. Today we enjoy a compliment of almost 300 new buses. Ten years ago, Las Vegans suffered with only 35 buses on the road and most of the fleet were at least 20 years old at the time.
In 1989, I was serving on the Clark County Regional Transportation Commission. One of my assignments was to conduct a financial audit of the city's transit bus system. During the audit, it was discovered that the old transit bus operator was keeping the loosest set of books since the days of Bugsy Siegal.
Following disclosure of information that I made available to the press about my audit, the blaring headline in the Las Vegas Sun read "Skim cloud darkens Las Vegas Transit System." As soon as the "skim" allegation was front page news, the owners of the old transit company immediately filed a law suit against me saying that I had provided the press with false information that accused them of skimming the profits from the lucrative Strip bus route. Their lawsuit unsuccessfully attempted to force me to recuse myself from participating in any discussions or actions affecting the company's franchise. I refused to yield to their threats and proceeded full steam ahead to have their franchise revoked as soon as possible.
In 1990, the city of Las Vegas under then Mayor Ron Lurie unceremoniously revoked the franchise of the Bus Company upon its' 49th year. With only one year remaining until their golden anniversary as our only bus system, they got booted. Unfortunately, beginning in 1991, the company acquired a friend in a very high position, our city's new mayor Jan Laverty Jones.
With me out of office and off of the Regional Transportation Commission, and with Jones sitting in my place on the RTC, the old company began to regain their political strength. Jones was a loyal defender of the status of the old Las Vegas Transit while Commissioner Bruce Woodbury had participated in my audit and knew that the old company had no financial accountability and had to go. The two powerful politicians locked horns.
Woodbury and I had worked together to find a new transit provider. We had agreed on a company called ATC VanCom to operate the new CAT system. Jones wanted to split the system and allow her crony, the old transit operator, to cherry pick the Strip route leaving the new CAT to prowl the less profitable local routes with tax support. With Jones at the helm, it looked as if her scheme would fall together. The taxpayers would shoulder the burden for the losing routes while Jones' friend would continue to make a fortune on the Strip. The excuse given by Jones' bus company friend: that federal law prohibited a publicly funded company from competing with a private enterprise. Jones' friend claimed to operate a private company. Then something unexpected happened.
Russ Driver and Alan Blum had put together a group called Citizens for Better Transit. Their sole purpose was to put the old company out of business so that a new -- financially accountable -- company could provide transit service to the Las Vegas Valley. One of the group's members was a disabled man named David Beamis. Mr. Beamis lived in Henderson and traveled by bus to the meetings in Las Vegas. One day while riding on one of the old company's dilapidated buses, David's wheelchair came lose and he sustained serious injuries.
David sued the company. The company bitterly defended themselves by calling David names and trying to degrade him. David unexpectedly accepted an out of court settlement of $6,000, which did not cover his pain or injuries. I was very disappointed when I heard of David's low-ball settlement -- until I learned the reason why David acquiesced.
David Beamis is a very selfless man. Even though he would not be able to cover his medical bills totaling over $20,000 with the bus company's heartless offer, he had a terrific trick up his sleeve for the old bus company.
Beamis had signed a confidentiality agreement with the company that he was willing to break. David brought a copy of his secret settlement agreement to me. The agreement stated that in exchange for the measly $6,000, David would give up his right to ever ride on the company's buses again. David and the President of the transit bus company had amazingly signed the contract.
By this time it looked as though, with Jan Jones help, the old bus company had a lock on the Strip route because of the Federal law and their claim that they were a private company that did not receive tax subsidies. Upon my receipt of David's secret agreement with the bus company President, I told David that he must immediately file a civil rights complaint with the Federal Transit Administration in Washington, DC. He was one step ahead of me. David had already placed a call to the Civil Rights office and they were busy processing his discrimination complaint.
Within days a letter arrived at David's home. It was from the Director of the Federal Transit Administration. The Director stated that he was opening an investigation of the Las Vegas Transit System and that, since they were federally funded, they had seriously violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. They were "Federally funded?" This was the first documented proof we had that the old company was federally funded and not entitled as Jones proclaimed to operate exclusively on the Strip. The Director stated in his letter that Las Vegas Transit had been the recepient of tax funded support because the federal government had given grants to the City of Las Vegas to purchase new buses on several occassions that were leased to the company. Bingo!
David and I immediately paid a visit to the attorneys for the Clark County Regional Transportation Commission and presented them with the Director's letter. His letter shot down Jones' argument that the company was protected on the Strip from federally funded competition. The old bus company was not protected since they too were federally funded. The rest is history.
Jan Jones walked out of the next three RTC meetings just when her friend's bus company's items appeared on the agenda. She did not participate in any hearing that pertained to the buyout of the company by the county and their removal from the roadways of Clark County including the Strip. She appeared to not want to offend her friend.
The Las Vegas Transit System soon closed their doors forever. However, they continued their lawsuit against me, and even disingenuously threatened to sue Commissioner Woodbury for statements he made on my radio program about their demise. Then my homeowner's insurance company offered them a cash settlement to stop their harassment of me. They accepted.
Now, Clark County is enjoying one of the best public transit systems in America, with the exception of the unfortunate accident that recently occurred to the paraplegic man. Ironically, this accident involving a disabled person and its possible $25 million dollar price tag could again send our RTC in search of another transit bus service provider.