Testimony of Joseph G. Rappaport, Executive Director, before New York State Senate and Assembly legislative committees
November 12, 2019
I am Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID). Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed 2020-2024 capital program.
Since we testified before your committees in February, your committees and the legislature as a whole have made great strides in developing a fully funded program for the upcoming capital program. First, you approved a funding package, including congestion pricing, that will fund a large part of the MTA’s proposed $51.5 billion capital program. (We also applaud the inclusion of an exemption in the congestion pricing legislation for certain disabled drivers who have no other transportation options.)
And, unprecedented in a five-year funding program, the legislature made the commitment to accessibility in both the transit funding bill and the Memorandum of Understanding between Governor Cuomo and the legislature. The MOU refers to “accessibility” in its list of MTA priorities, along with new signaling, new subway cars and track repair – in other words, as central to the authority’s mission as anything else, as it should be. This is an unprecedented commitment, and the legislature was right to make it.
Nothing can be done without funding. But disability, good government and transit advocates alike know that a line in the capital program is only the start of the process. Those billions must be spent on the right projects, efficiently and in as transparent a way as possible. For the disability community, this means:
A legally binding commitment by Gov. Cuomo and the MTA to make the subways fully accessible. The MTA has proposed an ambitious plan to make as many as 68 subway stations accessible in the 2020-2024 program. That’s real progress, but we’ve got reason to be skeptical, given the MTA’s long record of late and deferred projects and its repeated violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by renovating stations without making them accessible. Only a settlement of our lawsuits against the MTA will guarantee these projects move forward.
Smarter construction: The MTA must reduce construction costs for elevators and capital work, as our colleagues have argued. We’re open to innovative ideas, such as installing elevators that go directly to platforms and installing ramps when appropriate. But accessibility must not be conditioned on the ability of the MTA to reduce costs.
Prioritize other projects to make transit accessible and safer. These include making sure:
- in-station and subway car announcements are accessible to deaf people in an emergency and otherwise. The ability to communicate to all riders is essential for safety.
- warning strips along platforms are in place at every station, raised to current standards. These are essential for blind or lower-sight riders so they know where the edge of the platform is and avoid falling in – and they’re useful for all riders, of course.
- platform gates are installed at all new Second Avenue subway stations, at the very least. Platform gates are standard in most new subway construction around the world and are used in New York on the AirTrain. They prevent people from falling or jumping into the track and reduce deaths. While the MTA argues it would be prohibitively expensive to install platform gates at its 472 stations, all new stations could – and should — include the gates without excessive expense.
- bus stops are improved, not eliminated. The MTA’s current bus network plans have resulted in the removal of bus stops across the Bronx and on other routes. For instance, there is now no bus stop on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, part of the heralded busway. Disabled riders want faster bus service as much as anyone, but not if it’s impossible for them to actually get to the bus. Stops should include shelters and benches as well.
- Access-A-Ride improvements, such as the MTA’s on-demand pilot program, continue and expand. Two years ago, 1,200 lucky Access-A-Ride riders enrolled in an innovative on-demand program that allows them to get a ride when they need one, rather than having to reserve one a day in advance. Unfortunately, the MTA is about to change the on-demand pilot to severely restrict the number of rides these riders can take. We look to you to call on the MTA to halt this change and, instead, expand on-demand.
Increase capital program transparency: In other words, make sure that groups like mine, the legislature, the press and riders understand how the MTA is spending our money. Right now, it’s often impossible to whether a capital project is late or over-budget according to the MTA’s original schedule and cost estimate. Instead, the MTA’s capital program dashboard is a moving target, with rejiggered start dates and budgets routine. The legislature should insist that the MTA adopt recommendations of good government and transit groups so that everyone can follow the progress – or lack of progress – of accessibility and other projects.
The legislature plays another, crucial role in the capital program process. Along with oversight hearings like this, the Senate and Assembly’s representatives on the Capital Program Review Board must approve the MTA’s capital program. This is a serious responsibility, because any one representative has the right to veto the program if it doesn’t meet expectations. Your Capital Program Review Board representatives should look carefully at the MTA’s 2020-2024 before they approve it, making sure the MTA has settled our lawsuits, made a commitment for other accessibility improvements, and improved its transparency. We’re counting on you.