BOROUGHWIDE —The MTA’s plan to cut back its Access-A-Ride pilot program has some lawmakers and seniors seething. In fact, for some seniors the availability of Access-A-Ride services for the disabled is a lifeline that impacts their quality of life. With the MTA planning to severely limit its pilot program, the fear is that it will impact people with limited mobility by reducing the number of affordable, wheelchair-accessible vehicles they can use.
“Everyone needs to get someplace,” said Bay Ridge resident Jean Ryan, who is a member of the pilot program and has been using Access-A-Ride since 1994. “There were two pilot programs,” explained Ryan. “One was cut last spring without telling any of the users. They cut it on March 1 and didn’t tell anyone until it was reported in the Daily News on March 17.”
Ryan attended a monthly MTA meeting shortly after to voice her frustrations. “There were so many people there protesting and they were up in arms because it was really changing their lives so much,” explained Ryan. “Finally, Access-A-Ride found something that was working well and then they cut it.”
The original pilot program cut in March allowed users to request a pickup via the blue and white vans by using an app or notifying Access-A-Ride online. According to Ryan, the program offered more flexibility for riders’ return trips among other benefits.
“With regular Access-A-Ride, you have to book a trip one or two days before and you have to know exactly when and where you are going,” said Ryan. “So, when this was taken away, people who were able to do so much more were just suddenly back in the dark ages again.”
While the current pilot program offers 1,200 people unlimited Access-A-Ride trips for $2.75 per ride through the app, a letter sent from MTA Chairperson Patrick Foye to Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the number of rides offered to its customers would be capped at 16 a month.
Customers may also have to pay more for the rides. “What the MTA wants to do with the current same day taxi pilot is limit us to 16 trips a month and they’d pay a maximum of $15 per trip, about 2 miles,” explained Ryan. “Now there is no limit on number or distance just like on the subway.”
Ryan and others are frustrated that the MTA would tamper with a program that seems to be working. And they are not the only ones. City Councilmember Justin Brannan recently wrote a letter to Foye expressing his concerns about the recently announced changes to the program.
“Specifically, I am urging you to reconsider the decision to limit the MTA’s contribution towards the cost of a ride at $15, leaving the rider on the hook for any additional cost,” wrote Brannan.
“While I appreciate the MTA’s financial position and the need to change the pilot program’s flat $2.75 per ride fee, I would like to see riders get a better deal,” he added. “Aging and disabled New Yorkers deserve easy and affordable access to public transportation.”
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis concurred.
“Over the years, the MTA has implemented many of my suggestions that improve service such as installing GPS technology and vehicle tracking, and moving more rides from paratransit vehicles to brokered car service, where possible, to provide more direct rides at a lower cost to the agency,” Malliotakis told this paper.
“Access-A-Ride and the City of New York must now work out a deal to properly fund this service because it is heavily subsidized to keep the cost to the rider the same as the cost of a subway or bus fare to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations,” she added.
Carmen Feliciano is another senior who relies on the program to stay active and mobile. “Access-A-Ride lets me keep all my doctors in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” she told this paper.
“I get to visit friends, go to church and the senior center,” Feliciano added. “It’s not easy being a senior and disabled. This service helps you to maintain a normal life.”
The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.