Only 24 percent of subway stations are accessible to people who cannot use stairs or escalators. According to a new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer, less than half the areas served on the subway have at least one station accessible by train.
This is a good day. Failures and malfunction of the elevator are common and make even the accessible parts of the system random and unreliable.
What could be a 10-minute subway ride for most New Yorkers can take three hours for people with reduced mobility, said Monica Bartley, organizer of the Center for Independent Disability (NY).
A few weeks ago, Bartley and his colleagues returned to Union Square after a meeting with MTA officials, four bus stops in Bowling Green. When he got off the train, he learned that the 4/5/6 platform in Union Square was not serviced by an elevator. He was advised to drive to Grand Central. “When I got to Grand Central, the elevator did not work,” he said. “I went back to the Brooklyn Bridge and discovered that one was under construction.”
Several trains and many hours later, Bartley was back in the financial district on Fulton Street. In the end, she took the bus to Union Square.
“When we plan to travel, we always have to spend much more time than we would normally need to travel around the city,” he said.
Improving accessibility is one of the top four priorities in the Byford metro action plan, which was launched in May. Over the next five years, the MTA intends to open 50 more stations so that wheelchair users are never more than two stops away from a station with an elevator. Byford hired former TLC accessibility program manager Alex Elegudin to oversee the agency’s accessibility mission.
In addition to upgrading stations with elevators, Byford’s accessibility priorities reflect Transit Center’s #AccessDenied campaign: hiring employees who know the first-hand accessibility of the subway, improving lift reliability and simplifying elevator construction.
The attendees pointed out that accessibility is not with the elevators. The width of the platforms, the gap between platforms and trains, the cleanliness of bus stops and the clarity of audio screens and visual services are daily concerns for people with disabilities.
Bartley and other disability attorneys in the area applauded Byford’s commitment to accessibility, but urged him to code it by law.
Nearly three decades after the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the MTA has given way to its peers in Boston and Chicago, where it can reach about 70 percent of the stations and the numbers are increasing. The MTA is currently in the process of resolving a class action lawsuit filed by the organization of Defenders of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the context of recent station renovations that did not include accessibility improvements.
“Fifty stations in five years … it’s a very aggressive rhythm,” said Emily Seelenfreund, attorney for the disability attorney, about Byford’s plan. “All we ask of Mr. Byford is ‘place your money where you are at this moment’ and conclude a legally binding and binding conciliation agreement so that these stations are accessible.” “As we know, the MTA is a public body and priorities can change,” he said. “We do not want this priority to change; we want it to be the letter of the law.”