"I was devastated [by the decision]," Pope said. "This really does put a monkey wrench in our business."
She said a recent interpretation of the law by the Federal Transit Agency (FTA) requires any company that accepts federal funding to be 100 percent ADA compliant. That means every vehicle in a business's fleet must be wheel-chair accessible. Although Pope says the company has been able to accommodate ADA requests for years without exception, only 5 percent of Salt Lake Express's 68-vehicle fleet complies.
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Kitchen said it's an unfortunate situation.
"I think there was some confusion on how specific ADA requirements are interpreted," he said. "Apparently it was just not clear enough on the federal side."
The FTA provides grants to encourage businesses to launch rural-to-urban bus routes, sort of like seed money. Salt Lake Express would have received $500,000 for three years for a total of $1.5 million for the Moab-to-Salt Lake route.
Kitchen says UDOT, which will administer the grant, is working with the FTA to revise the Request for Proposals (RFP) so it can solicit another round of bids. He says it could be "a few months" before a Moab-Salt Lake connection could be up and running.
"Of course, we hope [Salt Lake Express] will reapply because they're an outstanding company," Kitchen said.
Pope says Salt Lake Express will try again, and the company will retrofit all of its vehicles to the tune of $10,000 a pop. And despite the grant reversal, Pope commended UDOT for trying to appeal the FTA decision.
"Utah worked really hard to get us an exclusion [to the rule]," Pope said. "I think they were as disappointed as we were."