Monday morning in Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Shlomo Hagler’s courtroom, lawyers for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Transit Authority and the City of New York will argue that the MTA/TA (the state-run operator of the subway) and the city (the owner of the subway) do not have to make the system accessible to people who use wheelchairs.
While Hagler and the courts will sort out the legal obligation, the moral obligation — and the moral failing — of the TA and the city are clear cut: Over many years, they have done an atrocious job enabling the estimated 100,000 New Yorkers who use wheelchairs to ride public transit.
These are people who by accident of disability, disease, injury or age can’t walk up and down stairs. All they want is the same lousy service that the rest of us suffer with.
Yet more than three-fourths of the city’s 472 subway stations have no elevators at all, with no plan to add more. In the small number of stations that do have lifts (which tend to be bigger and busier stops), the elevators are often broken.
Office and residential buildings don’t have this problem. Nor do other cities’ mass transit systems. Why should our subways?
Even what should be a simple task — maintaining an accurate list of elevator outages on its website — is apparently beyond the capabilities of the $10-billion-a-year Transit Authority.
To compensate for these huge gaps, the MTA has Access-A-Ride — a half billion-a-year program that takes people from Point A to Point B via Point Z in accessible vehicles. It takes forever and costs many times more than a cab or Uber ride.
The men at the top, Gov. Cuomo (MTA) and Mayor de Blasio (city), have to do better. Much better. Key to this will be the new TA President Andy Byford, who wants to make accessibility a priority and in his last job running Toronto’s subway put in place a schedule to have every station accommodate wheelchairs. While Toronto is nowhere near New York’s size, Byford should ramp it up — pun intended.
Last month, de Blasio had his MTA board appointees vote against a series of pricey station upgrades, grousing that accessibility hadn’t been included in the plan. It’s a start, but only the slightest. The MTA board has a task force on elevators and one on Access-A-Ride. To what end?
Both state and city must make accessibility integral to the MTA’s next capital plan.
People with disabilities have things to do, people to see, places to go. Underground, they deserve respect — and, finally, action.