MTA is committed to making the New York City subway 95% accessible. It will take 33 years.


New York has for years lagged behind other major American cities in making its subway system accessible to people with disabilities: only 126 of its 472 stations, or 27%, have elevators or ramps make them fully accessible.

But on Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would add elevators and ramps to 95% of subway stations by 2055 as part of a settlement agreement in two class action lawsuits over the issue.

The agreement, which still requires court approval, would set out a clear — and lengthy — timeline to fix an issue that has effectively prevented people who use wheelchairs and mobility devices from fully accessing the transportation system by common of the city, a pillar of the social and economic life of New York. .

As part of the settlement, the transportation authority will make an additional 81 subway and Staten Island Railway stations accessible by 2025. It will then make another 85 stations accessible by 2035, 90 more by 2045, then 90 more by 2055.

Of the metro stations that need to be modified, nine are currently partially accessible, in which passengers who cannot use the stairs only have access to trains traveling in one direction.

“We don’t have equity, we don’t have equality, if people are deprived of their ability to use a public transit system that for so many – more than half of New Yorkers – is the only way to get around,” Janno Lieber, chairman of the authority, said.

Mr. Lieber and disability groups acknowledged that the agreed timeline was slow. Transit officials said engineering issues, construction time and costs all require a long-term plan.

And even when the work is complete – more than six decades after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which banned discrimination against people with disabilities in public facilities – the subway is still not 100 %.

“We would like sooner,” said Jean Ryan, president of Disabled in Action, a nonprofit that is a civil party to the lawsuits. “But they say they can’t do it sooner. And you don’t make someone promise to do something they can’t do.

The changes will benefit a wide range of riders who find it difficult to use narrow fare gates or climb subway stairs, including parents carrying children in strollers, shoppers carrying large items home and airport travelers with luggage.

But the most transformative effects of the settlement will be felt by people with disabilities who have long been excluded from large swaths of New York’s subway system and, by extension, the parts of the city it serves.

Samuel Jimenez, 65, who uses a cane, said he hoped to see significant improvements in the system. The Montrose Avenue station in Brooklyn where he usually boards does not have an elevator, which makes getting around difficult.

“I have to go down stairs to my station, which takes me an hour and a day,” Jimenez, who was on his way to a dialysis appointment, at Union Square station, said Wednesday. “I would say it slows me down a bit. I miss a lot of trains because of that.

Many individual subway lines have significant sections that are off-limits to wheelchair users, including areas outside of Manhattan where the gap between accessible elevators is more than 10 stops. They include large sections of the G and J lines, part of the F line, and much of the portion of the 6 line that crosses the Bronx.

Ms Ryan, who used the subway for 25 years before she started using a motorized wheelchair, said these shortcomings force many people with disabilities to use less convenient and less reliable, and sometimes more expensive, modes of transport than the subway.

“It lasts 24 hours, and it’s spontaneous,” she said. “You can change your plans. You can do everything with the metro.

Disability rights activists have been trying for years to push transit officials to improve access, with particular emphasis on the lack of elevator service. In 2017, a group of organizations and residents with disabilities filed a lawsuit in state court, claiming that the transit system’s lack of elevators was a violation of the Human Rights Act. city ​​man.

Two years later, another group of plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit accusing the transit agency of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act when officials renovated subway stations without installing elevators, ramps or similar arrangements.

When the law was passed in 1990, it required that all public facilities built after 1993 be accessible. Although most of the subway system is much older than that, the transit agency struck a deal in 1994 with the federal government to make 100 “key stations” accessible by 2020, a goal that she has reached.

Transit systems newer than those in New York, including those in San Francisco and Washington, are fully accessible. And other aging subway systems have significantly higher accessibility rates than New York’s. More than two-thirds of stations in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards.

New York City transit officials had been criticized for the slow pace of improvements, which riders with disabilities said was insufficient given the size and reach of the subway system. It operates 24 hours a day and has the most stations of any city in the world.

“They’ve been fighting us for over five years in these lawsuits,” Ms Ryan said.

In late 2019, as the lawsuits were being argued in court, officials approved a $5.2 billion plan to add elevators to 70 stations by 2024, a rate at which the agency had “never worked before, Lieber said.

The Settlement Agreement would advance this commitment. The transit authority would be required to spend about 15% of the metro’s capital budget — which is used for construction, upgrades and maintenance projects — on specific efforts to improve accessibility.

“It’s going to take billions of dollars, it’s going to take a lot of sweat and muscle, but we’ll get there,” Lieber said.

The settlement will represent a significant financial outlay for a transit authority that has faced increased fiscal pressure due to the pandemic. The transit system has long struggled to limit capital spending, paying some of the highest construction costs in the world for projects.

Transit officials already have a long list of expensive projects and system upgrades in their capital plan. A congestion pricing plan that was expected to yield hundreds of millions of dollars for these improvements has been delayed, with Governor Kathy Hochul and Mr. Lieber accusing Washington officials of an extensive federal review process.

Even with the financial investment it requires, the regulation will not make the metro system fully accessible. Mr Lieber said the remaining 5% of stations not covered by the deal have difficult engineering issues, including stability issues or added weight, which would make it impossible to add lifts or ramps.

The agreement also won’t address the condition of existing elevators, the focus of another lawsuit. Passengers who rely on the elevators say they are poorly maintained, and even those that work properly are overcrowded, dirty, and plagued with foul odors.

Milagros Ortiz, 69, who has a heart condition and uses a walker, said Wednesday morning elevators in Union Square were frequently out of service, limiting his movement.

And even when they worked, she said, seemingly simple trips could be an ordeal.

To get from her home in Alphabet City to a target in downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday, she took a bus to Union Square and then two elevators to the subway platform.

Arriving at the Atlantic Avenue station, she then had to take three elevators to get to street level, with long steps between them.

But still, she said, it was better than the alternative.

“I can’t climb stairs,” she said. “If you see the stairs, it’s like you’ll never get to heaven.”

Olivia Bensimon contributed reporting.

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