Until recently, most New Yorkers took transportation access for granted, but what the recent failures of the transportation system in the city have shown is just a small window into what our clients who have disabilities face. The Access-A-Ride system fails hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers on a daily basis, denying them the independence and dignity that all the rest of us enjoy.
AR is Access-A-Ride. And it’s the paratransit service that’s in New York that’s supposed to be comparable to the buses and trains that folks use every day. And you have to go through a whole process to sign up for it, to get approved for it. People think that you can get it for free and you cannot. $2.75 each person, each way.
I became disabled later in life. I was shocked to see how people were treated by the government, by the MTA. Access-A-Ride is plagued by terrible problems, they have awful on-time performance, is the car going to show up?
In the disability community, there’s a very low percentage of people that are employed, but there’s many disabled people that have a college degree, that have the power and the will to go and work. But then the question is, how do I get to work?
Why should I be in a position where I’m potentially going to lose my job because I can’t get there on time? One time I was on Access-A-Ride for five and a half hours. I have been in every borough multiple times, even if I wasn’t going to that borough. I’ve had cars break down.
If I have to get to a doctor’s appointment at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, I’d have to wake up two hours earlier and be out of my house two hours earlier. So that’s four hours out of my day already. I’m forced to schedule it when I could just be going out right now, doing what I have to do. I can’t do that when it comes to Access-A-Ride.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, reached out to partners in the community, and we formed the Access-A-Ride Reform Group. That coalition has been very active at all levels in the organizing department, in the training department, in the individual advocacy department, in advocacy with elected officials, advocacy with the city and the state.
The end goal of this campaign is really for the first time to have equality and parity for New Yorkers with disabilities in terms of having 24 hour a day access to quick, efficient, effective, and safe transit.
Right when our coalition got off the ground, the fare that Access-A-Ride users had to pay was going to be increased. We came out in force and said, this is not going to be tolerated. We are not balancing any budget on the back of people with disabilities. And we were very successful in getting the governor and the mayor to change their minds.
You know what it is to go out every month to the MTA board meetings with people supporting the same issues. It was time for them to open their eyes and okay, let’s pay attention. And they are.
We’re really excited that following the launch of AARRG and demonstrations by AARRG members, the MTA reached out, said they were ready to launch for the first time, a pilot on-demand paratransit service system.
The pilot program consists of 200 people who either use the app on their smartphones, or they call directly to book an on-demand trip. We are a big part of that. We pushed for it. This is something that we wanted. And we came together as a group.
I remember the first day it started and I was like, Oh my God, where could I go? Where should I go? I now have the freedom to do whatever I want to do when I want to do it. And that wasn’t available to people before.
Moving forward, we plan to look at the systematic changes that are going to happen with the pilot program and survey those who are taking it to see what they feel needs to be done.
It is getting reformed. There are listening to us. They know who we are now, and they’ve paid attention, but it’s the work that we’ve done in AARRG that’s made this happen. And we’re going to have a better life.
The measure of a decent society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens and provides them with the services they need to thrive and to participate and to grow.
Anyone at any time can join the disability club. If someone asked me four years ago, if I’d be an amputee, I would have said, no. It’s not something that’s separate from everyone. It’s not something that’s “Oh, just you people. No, it’s all of us.”