COLUMBIA, 7/15/11 (Beat Byte) -- Disability advocates planning to protest a city-subsidized "dinner train" this Friday now have a potent mea culpa in their arguments against the train's non-compliance with ADA requirements.
The Columbia Star Dinner Train's inaccessibility to people with disabilities is a "mistake" that should never happen again, Assistant Columbia City Manager Tony St. Romaine said at a meeting last Thursday between city leaders and critics of some $65,000 in public subsidies the Columbia City Council earlier provided. KOMU News reported St. Romaine's near apology.
As a restored antique, the train is exempt from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But disability advocates have consistently maintained that regardless, it should never have received subsidies from taxes everyone must pay. On the train's opening day, July 15, they plan to protest.
"I think it’s important that if the city is going to spend thousands and thousands of dollar supporting a business to come to town, that it be useable for all of our citizens," said Mid-Missouri Advocacy Coalition Troy Balthazor.
"We are not discriminating against anyone," said train manager Greg Weber. "Frankly, these issues aren’t brought up very often because of the way the cars were built in the '30's and '40's. They are limited on access and we don’t have any choice on that."
Despite his "mistake" comments, St. Romaine defended the subsidy, speaking like the dinner train's banker. In so doing, he may have unwittingly opened yet another proverbial can of worms: City Hall attempting to pick winners and losers in the high-risk restaurant business, using taxpayer money that other restaurant owners also pay.
"We know how new businesses come and go, especially restaurants," St. Romaine said. "So you know they would obviously like to see how they do for the first year or so before they invest major funding into aquiring a car and making it truly accessible for everybody."