KEY POINTS

  • The two wheelchair-bound passengers were charged $25,000 after booking a train leaving Chicago to attend a conference of advocacy groups for people with disabilities
  • Amtrak said this was due to the need to add an extra car to the train because it was full
  • Amtrak said it would review the policy and charge the two passengers the normal $16 ticket price 

Amtrak announced Thursday it would drop a policy requiring wheelchair-bound passengers to pay extra for train tickets after two people complained they were asked to pay $25,000 for their tickets.

“After further review, Amtrak has determined to suspend the policy in question,” Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari told reporters. “It was never meant to be applied to this situation. And we apologize for the mistake.”

The issue came about after a group of wheelchair-bound passengers booked tickets on an Amtrak train running from Chicago to Normal, Illinois.  

Adam Ballard, transportation policy analyst for disability service and advocacy group Access Living, said the group was heading to Normal for a conference for disability organizations from across Illinois on Wednesday. He said when the group first booked their tickets, Amtrak said the train only had room for three wheelchair passengers, not five. This would force Amtrak to add an additional car to the train and adjust the seats to accommodate the group. Under Amtrak’s policy, two riders would have to pay $25,000 because of this.

“I thought it was a mistake,” Ballard told reporters. “How can that be possible? I was sure it was a mistake. But I've seen it in writing. So I know it's not.”

Reports of the bill first emerged on Friday and drew immediate criticism. Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs, told reporters the bill was “outrageous” and demanded a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to address the issue. Demonstrators also gathered outside an Illinois Amtrak station chanting, “We will ride.”

“The $25,000 ... that's a Hobson's choice. It's no choice at all. Obviously, the group can't pay $25,000,” attorney Jonathan Mook said.

Mook advises businesses about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents discrimination against people with disabilities at jobs, schools, public places and transportation while providing “reasonable accommodations.” Exceptions can be made if it creates “undue hardship” on the business.

However, Mook said the protection is there to protect small businesses from significant expenses when trying to be more accessible to people suffering from disabilities.

Amtrak announced it would waive the $25,000 bill Monday and review the policy, as well as find a way to accommodate the group and charge them the normal $16 price for their tickets.

amtrak An Amtrak train in New York City in 2004. Photo: Getty Images/Mario Tama