It’s not easy to get around NYC if you have disabilities. Many subway stations lack accessible entrances or elevators to the platforms. Buses often pull up to stops that are difficult to navigate for those who aren’t fully mobile or travel by wheelchair.
And then, there’s Access-A-Ride, the MTA service that handles paratransit for those who need physical assistance or accommodation.
Access-a-Ride is neither easy to use nor cost effective. Users must call at least a day ahead to schedule trips, and then hope a van arrives on time, is equipped with GPS, and takes them to destinations without complications, delays or detours caused by others sharing their routes. The rides aren’t always uneventful, and there have been plenty of customer complaints over the years. City Comptroller Scott Stringer noted that Access-A-Ride failed to show up 31,492 times in 2015 alone. On top of that, Access-A-Ride is costly. A Citizens Budget Commission report released in September said the MTA spent $456 million, or $70.77 per trip, in 2014. That’s the highest per-trip cost in the nation. Chicago, for instance, spent just $38.23 per trip — about $300 million less than NYC. Los Angeles was even lower.
There are some easy fixes. Expand Access-A-Ride’s contracts with livery cabs to use regular cars for riders who don’t need vans with special equipment. Add in ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and a greater use of technology to enable customers to request service immediately, rather than days in advance. Make sure every Access-A-Ride vehicle is equipped with the GPS system used by its fleet to help drivers get from place to place faster, and to improve monitoring and accountability for the entire system. Use less- expensive contractors, as long as officials can assure reliable service. And find ways to cut down on abuse and fraud, so that those who don’t need Access-A-Ride don’t use it.
Then, there are the larger changes: fixing sidewalks and bus stops to enable easier entry for those who are disabled, and making more subway stops accessible.
MTA officials say they’re already taking steps to reduce costs and improve services. But it’s clearly not enough.