Trudging up the stairs on the subway, it’s easy to forget that there are New Yorkers who can’t make it past a single step. They suffer from mobility issues or need a wheelchair to get around and according to advocates, there are not nearly enough accessible transportation options in the city.
Advocates say buses are unreliable, accessible cabs are few and far between and even the city’s paratransit service, Access A Ride, is insufficient, with long waits and total inflexibility – reservations have to be made in advance and times can not be rescheduled if there is a change of plans. Jean Ryan, an advocate with Disabled in Action who uses a wheelchair, has been fighting for better ways to get around the city since she first started having trouble walking in the 1980s, suffering from pain that doctors have never been able to diagnose.
According to Ryan and others, spontaneous trips can take wheelchair users hours longer than their able-bodied counterparts. With fewer than 250 accessible medallions out of 13,000 total in the city, taking a cab is hardly an option. Buses, they say, frequently have broken ramps or drivers who don’t know how to operate them, and the subway presents its own set of issues. The MTA says the subway will have 100 accessible stations by 2020 –there are currently 78 accessible stations – which still leaves the remaining 390 stations in New York City with gaps too wide for wheelchairs to cross and unusable stairs.
The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.
The city is currently fighting a lawsuit trying to stop it from adding 2,000 accessible medallions to the city’s cab fleet. Advocates say that even 2,000 medallions wouldn’t be enough. City Councilmember Oliver Koppell has brought a bill that would require every new medallion to be accessible and last month used a procedural rule called Sponsors Privilege to force the measure to a vote.