Testimony by Christopher Schuyler, Senior Staff Attorney, Regarding the MTA Budget Forecast

Access-A-Ride, Access-a-Ride Reform Group, MTA, News

Testimony by Christopher Schuyler, Senior Staff Attorney 

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Disability Justice Program To the New York State Senate  

Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions and  Standing Committee on Transportation  

On March 3, 2023  

Regarding the MTA Budget Forecast  

Good morning, 

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 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 ridership – and less of a need for paratransit. 

To start, we oppose the Governor’s proposal that the City increase its 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, specifically as to improved AAR services, the scope and size of the on demand pilot must be expanded – without service rationing (see Senate Bill S486), we  want to end the use of costly and onerous assessment centers for evaluating AAR  eligibility (see Assembly Bill A2723), and we want the fare discounts available to fixed  route system users – subways and buses – extended to AAR users. It’s noteworthy  that, while costs of AAR are only a small portion of the MTA’s operating costs, the AAR system is as large as it is – nearly 170,000 registered users – due to the inaccessibility  of the subway system. If the subways were accessible, many people with disabilities  who rely on AAR could actually use the subways instead. 

We commend the MTA for earmarking $10 billion of the $55 billion 2020-2024 Capital  Plan to subway accessibility projects. In addition to planned elevator and stair-free  access, the MTA must address platform accessibility issues, including the gap between  the platforms and trains and also finish 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 MTA must 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  MTA must ensure that a screen on all train cars contemporaneously relays messages  as conductors announce them. 

Finally, the MTA’s Congestion Pricing plan needs to pass in order for the MTA’s Capital  Plan to be fully funded, with the MTA relying on Congestion Pricing to raise $15 billion of the total Capital Plan. That notwithstanding, the MTA 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 (example: caregivers driving personal vehicles) to travel to medical  appointments within the Central Business District are at risk of being unfairly impacted.  Lastly, the MTA must ensure that of, the $15 billion raised from Congestion Pricing, a  proportionate amount of that funding will go to making the MTA 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.

In conclusion, the MTA must improve AAR service and make the subways fully  accessible — as required by law – which in turn will promote increased ridership,  particularly among the many New Yorkers long shut out of the system – people with  disabilities, the elderly, and parents and caregivers. Improving subway access will also  reduce the reliance on and costs of the AAR 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.

Download the testimony below.


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