Testimony of Yesenia Torres and Valerie Joseph, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled
before the City Council Transportation Committee Oversight hearing on Fast Forward
December 4, 2018
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Council on MTA New York City Transit’s Fast Forward (MTA) plan. We represent the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, an independent living center and an advocate for people with disabilities for more than six decades.
For people with disabilities, the Fast Forward plan is unprecedented. For the first time, the MTA makes a commitment to accessibility and calls it one of its “four equal priorities,” along with “transforming” the subway, a “reimagination” of buses and empowering MTA employees. (See Fast Forward, p. 19.)
Fast Forward also outlines an ambitious program of improvements, from a rapid expansion of the number of subway elevators to an improved Access-A-Ride system to better communications. These new commitments are welcome and long overdue.
But we want more than a few pages in a 74-page document. After all, we know the MTA’s history all too well: Fierce legal battles to make buses and 100 subway stations accessible in the 1970s and 1980s. Lawsuits again in the 1990s to get the MTA to adhere to federal law in its Access-A-Ride program. Major cutbacks in bus service between and in boroughs in 2010, no commitment to adding elevators after 2020, no innovation in Access-A-Ride service until last year.
It is a sorry record, and we’ve learned our lesson. For the first two accessibility promises we’ll discuss, we call on President Byford and the MTA to settle subway access lawsuits from the disability community, including BCID. We know that, while funding from state and city coffers is essential, only a legal settlement will guarantee us access.
Subway station accessibility: BCID has joined several other disability organizations in a state lawsuit charging the MTA is violating New York City Human Rights Law because of the lack of accessible stations. Only 24% of the system’s 472 stations are accessible. For the two of us and for more than 200,000 Brooklynites, this is a basic civil rights question: If stations don’t have elevators, we can’t travel in our city’s vast subway system. That’s just wrong. Fast Forward’s commitments to 50 new elevators and a fully accessible system must be backed by a legal agreement.
Elevator maintenance: We’ve also sued the MTA over its poor maintenance of the subway elevators, which go out of service often. We’ve both encountered out-of-service elevators and even had to be carried out of one station. The elevators also are often dirty beyond belief. Fast Forward promised to make elevators more reliable, but only a legal settlement will keep the authority honest.
Bus redesign: The MTA’s buses are the “slowest in the nation,” according to Fast Forward. Who could argue? We support ways of giving buses priority in traffic, the “installation of 150 audio-capable bus signs,” better bus lane enforcement and other improvements.
But we are concerned about the plan to “rationalize bus stops,” which is transit-speak for reducing the number of stops. We urge the MTA to reconsider this priority, since stops that are further apart are likely to make bus riding harder for people with disabilities, including many older people. In addition, we urge the MTA to work with the city’s Department of Transportation to make the placement of bus benches at every bus stop a priority. The chance to sit while waiting for a bus can influence whether people with some disabilities even use the bus.
Access-A-Ride: BCID is a core member of the Access-A-Ride Reform Group, or AARRG! Think frustration. We both ride Access-A-Ride and can tell you that they’re nothing like being stranded at 2 a.m. in the morning because of bad service. Under pressure from our groups and many riders, the MTA has finally begun to make fixes. For example, most AAR riders must call for a ride a day in advance, which no other MTA rider needs to do. But the MTA started an on-demand pilot program a year ago, which has been life-transforming for the 1200 lucky participants. For the first time, AAR riders can travel around town with little or no notice – just like other transit riders.
Fast Forward pledged to expand the current pilot program. But, over the next few years, all riders should have this option.
Finally, we have worked closely with the MTA to get AAR vehicles permission to use bus lanes. So far, the DOT has agreed only to let about 800 dedicated AAR vehicles in the lanes, but there are 1,000 more dedicated vehicles that should have this right as well.