Paratransit users warn MTA not to leave them behind on budget revamp – THE CITY | Gmx Pharm

As the MTA board on Wednesday detailed the financial hurdles the ailing transit agency faces as it tries to adjust to the realities of the pandemic-era, disability rights advocates tried not to be forgotten as priorities shifted .

Paratransit users both inside and outside of MTA’s Lower Manhattan headquarters pushed for the expansion of a popular e-hailing on-demand pilot program, as well as improving the Access-a-Ride service in general — along with greater emphasis of emergency preparedness for New Yorkers with mobility issues.

The meeting — at which the MTA unveiled a wish list for the next 20-year plan — came a day after the 32nd anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and just weeks after the MTA committed to 95% of all 472 U -Bahnen to build stations accessible by 2055 in response to a lawsuit. But Paratransit users say the Access-a-Ride service still falls short.

THE CITY has reported extensively on Access-a-Ride’s problems, including an increase in driver no-shows and a drop in service reliability to its lowest level in years, even as paratransit ridership was returning much faster than on the buses or in the Subway.

Growing service problems led to the pilot program, which allows customers to hail green and yellow wheelchair-accessible taxis on demand using their phones. It works like Uber and Lyft apps, except rides are only $2.75, the same price as an Access-a-Ride van ride.

“It was so much more convenient,” Elizabeth Valdez, systems attorney at the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, said at the meeting. “I don’t have to sit there, no matter how quirky it is, it’s better than waiting a day or two to reserve.”

But the pilot project is still tiny: Valdez is one of just 1,200 participants in the E-Hagel program. Access-a-Ride had a total of 548,729 rides in May — and just 35,000 e-hail rides. But the number of e-hail rides is steadily increasing, compared to 24,000 reported rides in January, according to Access-a-Ride’s rider dashboard.

‘Open it’

Dozens of New Yorkers with disabilities, along with some elected officials and other advocates, gathered outside the MTA’s headquarters before the board meeting to lobby for expansion of the e-hail pilot program.

“Unfortunately, only 1,200 of us have been allowed to use it in recent years, and we urge them to open it up to everyone,” Eman Rimawi-Doster, Access-A-Ride’s coordinator and organizer, told New York Public Interest Advocates. “Everyone deserves a chance to use it on demand – it opens up so much of your life.”

New Yorkers rallied outside the MTA headquarters in Lower Manhattan on July 27, 2022 for enhanced paratransit service.

After a pandemic delay, the pilot is now set to double — to 2,400 users — by early 2023, the MTA told THE CITY on Wednesday, but proponents have expressed concern that the agency’s looming “fiscal cliff” could short-circuit that goal.

“They say it’s too expensive for us to improve it to expand it as needed,” said Rimawi-Doster, a double amputee. “But if the service is so terrible, what do you expect from us? I have to work.”

The program started in 2017 and there were fears it would be phased out by 2019. Gothamist realized in November 2020 that its popularity had caused its costs to become too high for the transit company. The average e-hail ride in 2019 had a fare of $37, with the passenger paying $2.75. The MTA is then responsible for paying the difference to the taxi driver.

Bridge and tunnel tolls are another point of contention. Some commuters at the meeting said on-call drivers avoid faster routes because they don’t get tolls back while driving. THE CITY reported last December that the MTA was looking into solutions that included paying driver tolls. The MTA did not comment on those plans on Wednesday.

“Drivers don’t want to go to Rockaway because they think they’re going to lose money on the toll,” Michael Ring, a member of the group Disabled in Action, told the board.

contingency plans

Another issue highlighted by Access-a-Ride users in Staten Island and the Rockaways is the potential for evacuation disasters given the general lack of rider knowledge of the areas and how easily they can flood.

“Access Delayed is Access Denied. What is the plan to evacuate people with disabilities from subways?” asked Jean Ryan, President of Disabled in Action, at the MTA meeting.

THE CITY recently reported on these concerns and how they are affecting the plans of some disabled Staten Island residents to leave the island in the event of a flood emergency.

In May, on-time performance fell slightly below Access-a-Ride’s goal of a 94% on-time performance for trips with a 30-minute or less arrival window to pick up passengers. On-time performance was even lower for trips set to a time slot of 15 minutes or less — at 80% for primary Access-a-Ride drivers and 76% for contract brokers.

“Sometimes they just don’t show up. This is truly a tragedy,” Valdez said. “Sometimes you just want to get out there and enjoy life and feel like a human being. That’s it.”

‘Be there’

Subway ridership was at about 58% of pre-pandemic levels Tuesday, and buses are at 59%. But paratransit use has increased.

According to the MTA, 24,990 Access-a-Ride trips were made on Tuesday — or about 86.3% of a similar pre-pandemic day.

MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said it was “incredibly important” to hear from those who rely on public transport.

“Thank you for taking the time to come and participate,” he said.

A broken elevator at the Fulton Transit Center, July 21, 2021.

Rimawi-Doster acknowledged that improvements in subway station accessibility and Access-a-Ride service still need to be done to truly create an accessible transit system.

“I don’t want anyone to be ignored,” she said. “I want everyone’s access requirements to be met, not just because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do.

“And if the MTA keeps saying, ‘Oh, we’re all about accessibility,’ then you should really care.”

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