NYLPI Written Testimony to City Council Committee on Transportation Regarding Fiscal Year 2024 Preliminary Budget

Access-A-Ride, Access-a-Ride Reform Group, Disability Justice, Health Justice, MTA, Media Coverage, News

Photo: A person (back to us) stands towards the back of the MTA's Access-A-Ride bus

Testimony by Christopher Schuyler, Senior Staff Attorney New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Disability Justice Program to the New York City Council, Committee on Transportation on March 9, 2023 Regarding the Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2024 

Good afternoon. 

Thank you, Chair Brooks-Powers and Council Members, for the opportunity to present  testimony today. My name is Christopher Schuyler, and I’m a Senior Staff Attorney  with the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI).  

To begin, we commend the Council for its proposal to expand the income eligibility of the Fair Fares program, which will lighten the costs of transportation for those most in  the need of the help – which disproportionately includes people with disabilities. With  that said, we call on the Council to continue defending other vital city services and  investments. With the Council’s revenue forecasts for FY23 and FY24 totaling $5.2  billion more than the Office of Management and Budget predictions, and with the  Independent Budget Office’s announcement of a virtually identical surplus this year,  now is not the time to retreat from our City’s equity goals, including – critically – our  goal for accessibility for the disability community. 

Access-A-Ride Funding 

We call on the Council to oppose the Governor’s proposal to increase the  City’s funding of the Access-A-Ride (AAR) paratransit system from 50% to  100%. AAR is fraught with service issues as it is, and putting full funding  responsibility on the City – which can’t independently raise taxes to pay for it – is a  recipe for worse service still. AAR is a legally required and vital component of the  MTA’s complete transportation portfolio; the MTA cannot be permitted to drop the costs on the City alone. Moreover, the current heavy reliance on AAR is in large part  due to the years of the MTA failing to make the subways more accessible. That was and continues to be the responsibility of the State. Due to the State’s neglect, AAR has continued to grow. It’s wrong to now thrust the problem, which was created by the  State, onto the City. 

Access-A-Ride Improvements 

AAR, with nearly 170,000 users, remains a dysfunctional system: rides must be booked  at least one day in advance, rides are chronically late, and riders often endure long, unpredictable, shared rides to get to their destination. We urge the Council to  remedy these inequities, by advocating for expansion of the on-demand  pilot – without service rationing – and by eliminating AAR assessment  centers and instead requiring proof of eligibility to be submitted by treating  physicians. Notably, this latter recommendation would offer great savings to the City  and State, is utilized by paratransit providers across the state, and was previously used  by the City prior to the MTA taking over the AAR system. 

NYC Streets Plan 

Last year, the Mayor funded the NYC Streets Plan up to nearly $1 billion, but  benchmarks are already being missed, particularly with respect to bus and bike lanes.  The Council must exercise oversight of the City Department of  Transportation (DOT) to ensure all promises within the NYC Streets Plan are  met on time, including the promises to build and install accessible public  spaces, bus stops, accessible pedestrian signals, and upgraded intersections. 

Moreover, the Council must ensure that the City’s Open Streets and Open  Restaurants programs are accessible. In far too many cases, Open Restaurant  sheds block the sidewalk and Open Streets barricades create access barriers for the  disability community, both in that Access-A-Ride drivers refuse to move the barricades  to pick-up customers at their doors, and with drivers with disabilities who are not able  to move the barricades without assistance. DOT told NYLPI that it is working on the  problem, including by adding phone numbers on the barricades, which people in need  of help can call and a nearby attendant will assist. DOT plans to add these phone  numbers to the 34th Avenue Open Streets in Queens. The Council must ensure that  this is completed expeditiously – both at this location and all other Open  Streets locations throughout the City.

Bikeshare 

The proposed budget shows that Citibike revenue is part of the Mayor’s Program to  Eliminate the Gap, with nearly $10 million of revenue over the next four years going to  pay down the deficit. With this proof of the success of the bikeshare program, DOT  has little reason to further delay providing accessible, adaptive bicycles for people with  disabilities. Disability laws require equal access to transportation services, including the  City’s bikeshare program, yet options for people with disabilities have so far been  limited to narrow pilot programs – from which little to no information has been made  publicly available. The Council must mandate that DOT provide accessible  bikes for people with disabilities, and insist on transparency with respect to  DOT’s pilot program findings

NYC Ferry 

NYLPI is pleased that the preliminary budget allocates $500 million to improve boats  and terminals. The budget does not specifically state what improvements will be  prioritized, however. Members of the disability community have reported that NYC  Ferry suffers from various accessibility issues, including lack of signage, particularly  important for those who are deaf and hearing impaired, as well as a lack of clear and  accessible paths from street to landing. The Council must ensure that this  significant funding promise is used to abate these accessibility issues. 

Fair Fares 

We commend and support the proposal to expand the Fair Fares program to New  Yorkers with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty line, which will benefit over a  million people in our city. 

Additionally, while the Fair Fares program was made available to AAR users nearly  three years ago, only a very small percentage of eligible AAR users have actually opted  into the program. We urge the Council to mandate the implementation of an  extensive advertising campaign – targeted at eligible AAR users – to ensure  that this group is aware of the benefit and how to opt into it. 

Notably, the Fair Fares program – which is administered by the City not the MTA – serves as only a bandage over the MTA’s discriminatory practice of excluding AAR  users from the discount programs available to subway and bus riders. Subway and bus 

riders who have disabilities or are senior citizens have available to them a half-price  MetroCard. They – and all other subway and bus riders – also have the option of  purchasing 7-day and 30-day unlimited MetroCards, which provide significant savings  to frequent users. AAR users are excluded from each of these discount programs.  

The City, as evidenced in this preliminary budget, contributes enormous funding to the  MTA, and is entitled to makes demands on the MTA. We, therefore, urge the  Council to exercise oversight and compel the MTA to include AAR users in  the same discount programs available to all other mass transit riders. 

Subways 

We urge the Council to exercise robust oversight over the MTA to ensure  that it keeps and expands upon its promises to improve the accessibility of  the subway system. NYLPI acknowledges the MTA’s current budgetary and ridership  challenges, but asserts that a more accessible MTA system will ultimately benefit the  interests of both New Yorkers and the MTA alike. Modernizing the system and making  it accessible for the many who have long been shut out of the system, including people  with disabilities, the elderly, and parents and caregivers, will encourage increased  overall subway ridership – and less of a need for paratransit. 

The Council must also ensure that the MTA is held to its promise to allocate  $10 billion of the $55 billion 2020-2024 Capital Plan to subway accessibility  projects. Moreover, in addition to planned elevator and stair-free access, the  Council must ensure that the MTA addresses platform accessibility issues,  including the gap between the platforms and trains and the installation of  detectable warning surfaces along all platform edges. Just as stair-free access  from the street to the platform is essential to accessibility, so too is platform  accessibility. 

Additionally, the Council must mandate that the MTA make accessibility  improvements serving the needs of riders who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. For example, when train conductors make verbal announcements, both in routine ways  like when a train goes express, or in serious, unpredictable ways including  emergencies like active shooter scenarios, riders with hearing disabilities have no way  of receiving the message other than to read the faces of fellow riders. This is not equal  access to transportation. At a minimum, the Council must direct the MTA to ensure that a screen on all train cars contemporaneously relays messages as  conductors announce them. 

Congestion Pricing 

The Council must pull all the levers available to accelerate the passage of  the Congestion Pricing plan. The MTA’s Capital Plan is dependent on it, with the  MTA relying on Congestion Pricing to raise $15 billion of the total Capital Plan. That  

notwithstanding, the Council must ensure that all people with disabilities  traveling into the Central Business District are exempt from the toll. Currently, the Congestion Pricing law provides, vaguely, that “qualifying vehicle[s]  transporting a person[s] with disabilities” will be exempt. Without further clarifications  and assurances, many people with disabilities, including those who rely on non qualifying vehicles (e.g., caregivers driving personal vehicles) to travel to medical  appointments within the Central Business District are at risk of being unfairly impacted.  Lastly, the Council must ensure that of the $15 billion raised from Congestion  Pricing, a proportionate amount of that funding will go to making all MTA  transportation accessible. Passage of Congestion Pricing is also crucial because it  will improve air quality, reduce traffic gridlock, and encourage return to the mass  transit system. 

Thank you for hearing my testimony today. I am happy to discuss any of these  recommendations. 

Christopher Schuyler, Senior Staff Attorney 

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest 

151 West 30th Street, 11th floor 

New York, NY 10001 

[email protected] 

(212) 244-4664 

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest 

For nearly 50 years, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) has been a leading civil rights  advocate for New Yorkers marginalized by race, poverty, disability, and immigration status. Through  our community lawyering model, we bridge the gap between traditional civil legal services and civil  rights, building strength and capacity for both individual solutions and long-term impact. Our work  integrates the power of individual representation, impact litigation, and comprehensive organizing  and policy campaigns. Guided by the priorities of our communities, we strive to achieve equality of  opportunity and self-determination for people with disabilities, create equal access to health care, ensure immigrant opportunity, strengthen local nonprofits, and secure environmental justice for low income communities of color. 

About NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program 

NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program works to advance the civil rights of New Yorkers with  disabilities. In the past five years alone, NYLPI disability advocates have represented thousands of  individuals and won campaigns improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Our  landmark victories include mandating that the MTA equitably provide its Access-A-Ride services to all  applicants and riders with limited English proficiency. We have worked together with the MTA to  bring about an “on demand” Access-A-Ride program and to enable New York’s most indigent  residents to obtain Fair Fare discounts when using Access-A-Ride. We recently filed a class action  lawsuit seeking to permit all Access-A-Ride users to access the same discount programs available to  all other MTA transit users, as well as a class action to remedy the enormous gaps between subway  cars and subway platforms system-wide.


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