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MTA's $21M Renovation Failed to Make Station Wheelchair Accessible: Lawsuit

By Eddie Small | June 28, 2016 4:59pm
 The non-profit Disability Rights Advocates has filed a class-action lawsuit against the MTA.
The non-profit Disability Rights Advocates has filed a class-action lawsuit against the MTA.
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DNAinfo/Nicole Bode

THE BRONX — Disability advocates have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the MTA over its failure to make a Bronx subway stop accessible to handicapped people during a recent $21.85 million renovation.

The suit was filed by the non-profit Disability Rights Advocates and focuses on the 6 train's Middletown Road station, which was closed between Oct. 5, 2013, and May 4, 2014, for extensive upgrades that included replacing the floors, installing a fire alarm system and replacing stairs, court papers say.

However, the MTA did not build elevators as part of this renovation that would have enabled people with mobility disabilities to use the station, even though doing so would have been "technically feasible," according to the lawsuit.

This violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and amounts to discrimination against the disabled, the suit says.

“This is not the first time that the MTA has spent millions of dollars improving a subway station while ignoring the legal mandate to simultaneously make it accessible,” Disability Rights Advocates Managing Attorney Michelle Caiola said in a statement, “which is why New York City has one of the worst public transportation systems for people with disabilities in the United States.”

Only 19 percent of subway stations in New York City are fully accessible to people with disabilities, while 100 percent of stations in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Bay area, 74 percent of stations in Boston, 68 percent of stations in Philadelphia and 67 percent of stations in Chicago are wheelchair-accessible, according to Disability Rights Advocates.

The lack of wheelchair-accessible stations in New York includes a 4.4-mile stretch of 10 stops on the 6 train in The Bronx between the Hunts Point Avenue and Pelham Bay Park stops that includes Middletown Road, the lawsuit says.

Disability Rights Advocates filed the suit on behalf of Bronx Independent Living Services and Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, two groups that work to improve the lives of handicapped people, as well as Bronxites Robert Hardy and Rodolfo Diaz, who both have mobility disabilities.

Hardy and Diaz, who works for Bronx Independent Living Services, would use the Middletown Road station if it were wheelchair-accessible, but they rely on buses when traveling throughout the borough instead because the system is more accessible than the subway, according to the lawsuit.

"The buses, however, are a slower and less convenient method of transportation than the subway," the suit reads. "It often takes up to two hours for Mr. Diaz to travel between destinations within the Bronx for his work, using multiple buses."

Diaz said he lives nearby the Middletown Road station and would prefer to take the train if he could, as it would be a faster way to get around.

"That’s one of the stations that’s close to my house," he said, "and it would be more convenient for me to actually take the train that’s close to my home."

The lawsuit was also brought on behalf of all disabled people who would like to but cannot access the Middletown Road station.

The MTA maintained that building elevators at the Middletown Road station was technically not feasible due to physical constraints, meaning they are not violating the ADA, and stressed that accessibility improvements like stair handrails and tactile signs were part of the renovations.

The agency is committed to making 100 stations fully accessible by 2020, and all of its buses are currently wheelchair-accessible, according to the MTA.

Although the suit asks for its plaintiffs to be awarded with "reasonable attorneys' fees and costs," its main purpose is to persuade the MTA to make the Middletown Road station accessible to people with mobility disabilities.

“Many may take access to the subway system for granted, but for our members and constituents, the exceedingly few elevators is a daily reminder of how little effort the MTA has placed on making it a system open to all,” DIA President Anthony Trocchia said in a statement. “Hopefully, this suit can initiate a change in MTA priorities.”