NYC subways need more disability access
New York City - Disability rights groups, New York Elected Officials, parent advocates, aging groups, and transit advocates in New York City launched a campaign on July 20, 2017, calling on Governor Cuomo and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to adopt clear, ambitious plans to make the NYC subway system fully accessible and to address long-term dysfunction in MTA elevator maintenance operations. The groups marked the release of a TransitCenter report entitled “Access Denied: Making the MTA Subway System Accessible to All New Yorkers.” The report chronicles the short and long term policy failures that have rendered the MTA the least accessible subway system in the country, and presents actionable recommendations to remedy the problem.

The report notes that while the MTA will achieve accessibility at “100 key stations” identified in a 1994 legal settlement in its current cycle of capital investments, the agency has no clear plans for expanding the number of accessible stations going forward. “Having no strategy, plan, goal or set of benchmarks to significantly expand accessibility — let alone make every station in the system accessible — is unconscionable nearly 30 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Chris Pangilinan, a transit expert, subway rider, and wheelchair user who works at TransitCenter.

The report also documents how limited subway trip-making is for people who can access only 110 of 472 subway stations, and that this limitation is compounded by the daily roll of the dice that subway elevator users face in terms of elevator breakdowns and inaccurate alerts regarding outages.

NYC subways are the least accessible major subway system in the country for people who require stair-free access. Only 23% of the city’s subway stations have elevators. The elevators break down often, rendering even fewer stations accessible to those with mobility impairments. In contrast, Boston’s “T” and Chicago CTA urban rail networks have more than twice the station accessibility, and thus vastly greater trip-making opportunities for people requiring accessible stations despite being 100-plus year-old systems like the NYC subway. After city and transit leaders empowered agency staff to tackle the issue, 71% of Boston’s subway stations and 69% of Chicago’s rail stations have been made accessible. Both cities have concrete plans to reach 100% accessibility.

In 1994, the MTA agreed to make 100 “key stations” accessible by 2020. This was part of a settlement that exempted the agency from full compliance with the ADA and the state’s Public Buildings and Transportation Laws. The MTA is currently working to complete the final 11 of these 100 stations. But beyond fulfilling this 25-year-old agreement, neither the Cuomo Administration nor the MTA has an articulated plan or policy for making the system more accessible in the future.

"Transportation access is the second biggest barrier to employment for people with disabilities. We need reliable transportation like everybody else," said Monica Bartley of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY.


Governor Cuomo and the MTA leadership have the power to remedy today’s unreliability and vastly accelerate progress on system-wide accessibility for the NYC subway. “Access Denied” calls on the Governor and transit leaders to incorporate detailed ADA accessibility improvements into the MTA’s Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment and the 2020-2024 Capital Program, with a strategic goal of 100% accessibility and clear targets and benchmarks on the way to full accessibility. The investment strategy and focused policy attention should allow a faster pace of new elevator construction, such as 15 newly accessible stations a year. This would result in 100% accessibility in 25 years. As an example, Chicago has set a deadline of 20 years to achieve 100% accessibility in its system.

In the short run, the MTA needs to completely overhaul subway elevator maintenance and management practices, with a focus on employee retention, better training, tracking, reporting and accountability for performance. If the agency cannot accomplish better elevator reliability in-house, the MTA should contract out for elevator maintenance operations to a private company that specializes in the field, like tens of thousands of elevator buildings in the city do already.

“We cannot continue to tell those unable to get up and down steps on their own that the subway system is not for them,” said City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. “There needs to be a real plan to tackle the lack of accessibility in the city subway system. This not only means more elevators must be built, but those that are already in place must be maintained. Far too often I get calls from constituents furious that elevators at the uptown A and 1 train stations are down. It is unacceptable. This is an issue that troubles thousands across our city and I am proud to join TransitCenter in demanding a change.”

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© Erik McGregor - erikrivas@hotmail.com - 917-225-8963
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