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Better and faster subway access: New Yorkers with disabilities know too well that the MTA’s elevator service is out of order

2019-08-17

More, faster, please. (Rose Abuin/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 it was celebrated as a new era of accessibility throughout the nation. However, over the past three decades, New York City transit riders with disabilities have been perennially disappointed and left behind by the MTA’s capital priorities.

That must end now.

The drumbeat for transit justice has grown louder in recent years. Transit and disability advocates have reignited the conversation on accessibility. Meanwhile, activists have brought bold and successful lawsuits against the MTA for undertaking substantial station renovations, often prioritizing cosmetic repairs over access to commuters with disabilities. The MTA has missed opportunities to make stations accessible at Middletown Road in the Bronx, Bay Ridge Ave. in Brooklyn, 39th Ave. in Queens, 72nd St. in Manhattan, and the list goes on.

In June, the MTA was supposed to release a list of the 50 stations where it will add elevators. Another deadline missed, like so many others.

Riders have made their voices abundantly clear: Working towards full subway accessibility needs to be a top priority in the upcoming 2020-2024 MTA Capital Program. If riders must be inconvenienced for more than six months with a station closure, they deserve complete accessibility.

Everyone, from the subway rider in a wheelchair or the new parent struggling to carry their stroller up or down dozens of steps, must be able to use our public transportation. This isn’t only because the MTA is embroiled in lawsuits over its lack of compliance with federal law; it’s a matter of basic fairness in a city where it’s far, far too hard to get around if you happen to use a wheelchair, walker, stroller or shopping cart, or otherwise have limited mobility.

Earlier this year, we introduced legislation that would codify basic accessibility goals in state law. We urge the MTA to show that they are serious about meeting these goals by including those accessibility goals into capital program and operational expenses.

First, the MTA should act immediately on the station accessibility goals stated in TA President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan: 50 stations in the 2020-2024 MTA Capital Program, 130 additional stations in 2025-2029, and as many as possible of the remaining stations in 2030-2034. This is the pace we should have been working at for the past 30 years. This year, with new leadership and a reorganized MTA, there is an opportunity to make right on a longstanding injustice.

Second, the 2020-2024 MTA Capital Program needs to provide immediate attention to relatively basic improvements that will significantly improve the accessibility of our subway system. This means revising maintenance practices so that we can achieve elevator up-time targets on par with our global transit peers. The current standard of two weeks of outages per year per elevator is unacceptable. This means adding tactile strips to platform edges and reducing edge gaps, ensuring announcements are made both in clear audio and visual form, and more.

It also means comprehensive, real-time information about elevator outages and alternate routing that is open for third-party services such as Google Maps. These goals are included in Byford’s Fast Forward plan and they are attainable within the next capital program period.

Third, the MTA must commit to an open and transparent process for prioritizing where accessibility improvements are made first. Yes, the road to full accessibility is long. But by establishing clear and intuitive criteria for station selection we can begin to make progress towards justice for transit users with disabilities.

The MTA is at an organizational inflection point. It has made a clear effort to reorganize itself to become more efficient and economical. This is its opportunity to show riders that it can be trusted to manage the largest transit system in North America. Success is possible, but only if every single person can access our public transit system.

Dinowitz represents the Northwest Bronx in the Assembly. Gounardes represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and other Brooklyn neighborhoods in the state Senate.