Testimony by Christopher Schuyler, Senior Staff Attorney, Regarding the MTA Budget Forecast
Access-A-Ride, Access-a-Ride Reform Group, MTA, News
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
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
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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