Legislators and Advocates Call for Federal Funding to Promote Transit Accessibility

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator Andrew Gounardes were joined by advocates for transit riders with disabilities to highlight existing capital needs to bring the subway system into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

New York, NY – The MTA has been left in severe financial straits during the COVID-19 economic crisis, but that won’t stop advocates for transit riders with disabilities from advocating for key accessibility commitments that so far remain unmade. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, Center for Independence of the Disabled – New York, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, Bronx Independent Living Services, Disability Rights Advocates, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Riders Alliance all gathered virtually to discuss key accessibility elements of the Fast Forward plan proposed by former NYCT President Andy Byford as well as other sought-after improvements.

In 2019, State Senator Gounardes and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz announced legislation that was developed with feedback from many of these organizations about what steps need to be taken to bring full accessibility to New York’s subway system. One of these recommendations, the establishment selection criteria for how to equitably prioritize subway stations for accessibility upgrades, was signed into law earlier this month.

Additional recommendations on how to bring the subway system into full accessibility include:

  • Codify the Fast Forward timeline of making at least 50 additional subway stations accessible in the 2020-24 capital program, 130 new accessible stations in the 2025-29 capital program, and all remaining stations in the 2030-34 capital program.
  • Require that any station closure or substantial renovation six months or longer must include full accessibility as a key element.
  • Provide real-time, up-to-date, and accurate information regarding elevator outages and alternate routing and make this data available via third-party API (Application Programming Interface).
  • Revise maintenance practices to improve reliability of elevators and wheelchair lifts in order to provide continuous and uninterrupted elevator service.
  • Design and site elevators to provide similar stair and stair-free access/egress times.

Now in 2020, the legislators and advocates [are] part of a near-deafening chorus of calls for federal funding to simply maintain mass transit service and prevent cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic – let alone fund future capital improvements for elements like accessibility. One major revenue stream that was intended to help pay for future capital projects such as subway elevators was the start of congestion pricing in January 2021, but delays from the current United States Department of Transportation have potentially delayed that start until 2023. The USDOT has also been increasingly criticized for an outdated funding formula that mandates 80% of federal transportation funds go towards highways. Transit experts and advocates have suggested that an even split of that funding would make a significant difference in transit agencies’ ability to modernize subway systems.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: “Funding capital improvements to bring our subway system into compliance with federal disability requirements is something the federal government should have been doing regardless of pandemic, but right now it is even more critical that Congress include the full funding request by MTA Chairman Foye and Governor Cuomo. Without this funding, New Yorkers with disabilities will wait even longer for things like new elevators in the Bronx and that is unacceptable. Equal access to our mass transit system is a human right and it is imperative that our federal government do everything it can to ensure that all Americans are able to move around efficiently, safely, and affordably.”

State Senator Andrew Gounardes said: “A 100% accessible transit system is not a luxury but a necessity. It is not something that we stop working towards in a crisis. It is a legal mandate under the Americans with Disabilities Act and a moral mandate that every New Yorker must have the right and the ability to use our public transit system. We are calling on the federal government to act now to protect the basic human rights of New Yorkers with disabilities and invest in our nation's public transit infrastructure.”

Disability Rights Advocates Staff Attorney Emily Seelenfreund said: “The inaccessibility of the NYC subway harms the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities who are overwhelmingly excluded from the City’s most convenient form of transportation and struggle to travel to work, school and other activities as a result. Ending this discrimination must be a priority and DRA is honored to work alongside tireless advocates to fight for a subway system that works for all New Yorkers.”

Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY’s Executive Director Susan Dooha said: “Ensuring ADA compliance throughout New York City’s transit system is a necessity, not a luxury. We must make sure that all residents, including people with disabilities, are not cut off from essential services. Quite frankly, ADA compliance is long overdue, and the pandemic has only shown how far the MTA is from true accessibility for all.”

Brett Eisenberg, Executive Director on behalf of Bronx Independent Living Services, said: “BILS has been a strong advocate for a fully accessible subway system and the pandemic certainly doesn't change our position. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues and elected officials in renewing this call to action. We thank Assemblyman Dinowitz and State Senator Gounardes for understanding the importance of this issue. People with disabilities should have the same rights and equal access that everyone else does. The MTA needs to make the subway system accessible and needs the resources to do it.”

Jessica De La Rosa of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled said: “We desperately need federal funding to help the MTA give us what we have deserved for so long: full and equal access to the subways," said Jessica De La Rosa, systems advocate at the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID). "If Washington doesn’t come through, or we don’t get funding from state sources, people with disabilities will continue to face an inaccessible, discriminatory system.”

Danny Pearlstein, Policy & Communications Director at Riders Alliance, said: “Congress must act to make New York's public transit system whole post-COVID. That includes critical investments in subway accessibility. The MTA moved mountains to cut the cost of elevator construction. Now the federal government should have every confidence that money invested in subway accessibility is money well spent on delivering transit access for all New Yorkers.”

The full press conference can be viewed here.