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NYC Subway System Worst in Nation for People With Disabilities: Lawsuits

By Ben Fractenberg | April 26, 2017 3:18pm
 Several nonprofits advocating for people with disabilities  brought a pair of lawsuits against the MTA to make more stations wheelchair accessible.
Several nonprofits advocating for people with disabilities brought a pair of lawsuits against the MTA to make more stations wheelchair accessible.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

MIDTOWN — New York’s subway system is the least accessible in the country for people with disabilities, according to a pair of class-action lawsuits filed Tuesday against the MTA.

Nearly 80 percent of subway stations are inaccessible to people who can’t traverse stairs, which is a “flagrant violation” of the city’s human rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the suits.

Plaintiff Sasha Blair-Goldensohn uses a wheelchair and said his daily commute includes a transfer and the use of four elevators.

“The lack of elevators doubles my commute time, at best,” Blair-Goldensohn said in a statement. “And if just one elevator is out of service, I’m stuck. I never know when I’ll have to ask strangers to carry me up the stairs in my wheelchair. It’s nerve-wracking, dangerous and degrading.”

Only 112 of the city’s 472 subway stations are wheelchair-accessible, and out of those only 100 are currently open and offer elevator service in both directions, the federal lawsuit read.

Even stations that have elevators are often out of service, the lawsuit found. At least 25 elevators are out of service for about four hours each day on average, according to the court papers.

The suits were brought by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) on behalf of several disability nonprofit groups.

“The MTA’s actions are a disgrace to New York. Subway station inaccessibility does not just affect people who use wheelchairs, but also everyone unable to use steps,” said DRA litigation director Michelle Caiola in a statement.

“It is dangerous for older people and those who resort to carrying baby strollers precariously up and down stairs. Unfortunately, the MTA has been derelict in its duty to ensure the basic right to its transportation for all. Its disregard and negligence should not be tolerated any longer.”

The suits demand the MTA “undertake a concentrated effort to install elevators at stations over a reasonable period of years” and for the MTA to deliver a plan to address “the dangerous rate of breakdowns and the lack of contingency planning for closures” of elevators.  

The MTA contended that 117 stations were ADA-accessible and 25 more were going to be made accessible under federally approved funding. 

The cost of making the entire system accessible would be $10 billion, according to the agency, and the 2015-19 capital budget includes just $740 million for ADA accessibility and $334 million to replace existing elevators and escalators. 

“The MTA has been committed to serving the needs of disabled customers through subway service, fully accessible bus service and the MTA’s Access-A-Ride (paratransit) program," MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said in a statement. 

"That commitment continues to be evident in our current Capital Plan where we are spending more than $1 billion to increase the number of ADA-compliant subway stations and replace existing elevators and escalators. We cannot comment on pending litigation — therefore we can’t address these specific lawsuits.”