If You Can’t Take the Stairs, Only 23 Percent of Subway Stations Are Accessible — on a Good Day

The MTA has fallen far behind transit agencies in Boston and Chicago when it comes to making subway service accessible.

Disability rights advocates called on Cuomo, Lhota, and the MTA to accelerate efforts to add elevators and improve maintenance of existing ones.  Photo: David Meyer
Disability rights advocates called on Cuomo, Lhota, and the MTA to accelerate efforts to add elevators and improve maintenance of existing ones. Photo: David Meyer

For mobility-impaired New Yorkers, riding the subway can be impossible. Only 110 of the system’s 472 stations have stair-free access, and even at those stations, elevators don’t serve every platform and are often out of commission, with little or no public notice.

The MTA is on pace to fulfill its commitment under the Americans with Disabilities Act to make 100 “key stations” accessible by 2020. (There are 11 of these stations left to go.) But beyond that, the agency has no subsequent plan for improving accessibility. Governor Cuomo is remodeling 31 stations in the system, but not for ADA-compliance.

Disability rights advocates have had enough. They’re calling on the MTA to prioritize accessibility for the 10 percent of New Yorkers who have a disability as Cuomo and MTA chair Joe Lhota work out a plan to turn around subway and bus service.

“Nearly 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the MTA operates the least accessible subway system in the country,” TransitCenter program director Chris Pangilinan said today at a rally outside MTA headquarters.

Pangilinan, who uses a wheelchair, is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit charging the MTA with discrimination against people with disabilities. He said he’s faced an elevator outage every four days since moving to the city two years ago. “The 100 stations are merely a box to check for the MTA, and then they get to go home. Meanwhile, the rest of us up here are still stranded underground,” he said.

“Access Denied,” a report released today by TransitCenter, highlights the subway’s accessibility crisis and sets forth steps the MTA must take to address it [PDF]. According to the report, from July 2014 to June 2015, an average of 25 elevator outages occurred each day, with no less than seven and as many as 46 occurring on a single date. The worst offenders were the Yankee Stadium and Franklin Avenue stations, which had elevator outages on 111 and 97 days, respectively.

Since there are no real-time updates on the status of elevators, riders unable to climb stairs must spend hours figuring out how to get out of the system and get home.

Just 23 percent of subway stations are accessible for stair-free riders. Image: TransitCenter
Just 23 percent of subway stations are accessible without having to use stairs. Image: TransitCenter

Because of the lack of elevators, riders in wheelchairs have access to just 5 percent of the possible point-to-point trips available to able-bodied riders.

This morning, Pangilinan and other wheelchair-using riders, holding signs with messages like “My elevator stood me up” and “#strandedbyCuomo,” shared horror stories of hours spent going from station to station looking for a way in or out. “These experiences rob us of our dignity and are an urgent concern for the disability community,” said Monica Bartley, community outreach specialist for the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, New York.

Station accessibility is not only a concern for the disabled, but also seniors and parents with strollers. The city’s population age 65 and older is expected to grow 36 percent by 2030, making station accessibility even more urgent for the city’s future.

The coalition behind “Access Denied” is calling on the agency to make every station ADA-accessible, which even at an accelerated rate of 15 stations per year would take two decades. And they want the agency to improve the pace of maintenance while providing real-time information on elevator outages. To oversee these efforts, they’re calling for the MTA to create a high-level department dedicated to addressing accessibility needs across the system.

New York’s subway system may be old, but that’s no excuse. The TransitCenter report notes that transit agencies in Chicago and Boston, also faced with century-old infrastructure, set out to achieve 100 percent accessibility. Boston is now at 71 percent and Chicago at 69 percent — much farther along than the MTA.

“We want to see a timeline with real goals, including a plan for handling elevator outages, repairs, and notifying customers of travel alternatives,” Bartley said.

  • reasonableexplanation

    i wonder what the cost difference would be to the MTA for making each station accessible vs just reimbursing an accessible cab each time a disabled person needs to go somewhere.

  • c2check

    First they’d need to ensure more coverage across the city by accessible cabs and car services, including Uber and Lyft.
    Elevators are useful for lots of other people too, though (seniors, people carrying heavy things, children with strollers), and for things like getting platform cleaning machines downstairs, etc.

  • reasonableexplanation

    No doubt elevators are a good thing, but it ain’t exactly fast nor cheap to retrofit existing stations with them. It will be done eventually, piecemeal I’m sure, but in the meantime…? Is there any other viable solution?

    My own local station got a renovation some years ago to add an elevator; it took 3 years if I’m not mistaken, and wasn’t cheap.

  • Rex Rocket

    Yes, thank you–put the MTA in charge of supplying alternate transportation—they do such a great job with their own.

  • reasonableexplanation

    They wouldn’t operate the cabs, just reimburse…

  • Rex Rocket

    There’s no money to be made by simply reimbursing. They would have to create another layer with some contractor to approve alternate services, oversee reimbursements, etc., and hopefully pick up more cash for more bad service.

  • Thatoneguy

    The biggest culprit for New York’s Subway woes and lack of ADA accessibility is that the New York City MTA is not in direct control by the mayor as in the case of Chicago, Boston, and basically every other city. It is in control by the governor of New York.

  • Erin

    There is a paratransit system in place. I don’t know about NYC but in Boston, it costs $45 per ride to run it. Absurd cost overruns for a system that works horribly in both Boston and NYC with hardly anyone content with the service. You could order a car at 8 am to go from Astoria to downtown and it’d show up at 8:30 and go to downtown via the Bronx.

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