Action onlineMagazine of the United Spinal Association Accessible Transportation in New York City: Getting Better all the Time
Thursday, August 26th, 2004 On June 7 and 8, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) hosted a Regional Dialogue on accessible transportation in New York City.
The focus was to bring together the stakeholders of accessible transportation: the providers and the passengers. For two days, a select group of advocates, activists and passengers exchanged ideas, questions and suggestions with subway, bus, paratransit and taxi service administrators, operators and owners. We discussed compliance with the transportation regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, customer service and equipment durability, among other issues. Most such Regional Dialogues are more regional, and less city-specific. The FTA felt that New York City transportation was big enough and complicated enough to warrant its own Regional Dialogue. This turned out to be true, and while a number of fine recommendations surfaced, some attendees left believing more discussion was needed. United Spinal Association General Counsel James Weisman gave the keynote address, a historical perspective on accessible public transportation. Breakout session topics ranged from taxis and ferries, subways and commuter rail, buses, paratransit and transportation in boroughs aside from Manhattan.
Speaking of the outer boroughs, while New York City Transit (NYCT) has operated a 100% wheelchair-accessible bus fleet since 1995, participants agreed that bus service was not as good for passengers with disabilities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Another accessible bus suggestion concerned the design of the newer front-loading, low-floor accessible buses; simply put, NYCT was asked to request bus manufacturers to review the design and location of the wheelchair securement areas in the front of these buses.
A couple of effective ideas also emerged about access to the subway system. It was recommended that NYCT continue to look at potential ways to traverse the horizontal and vertical gap that exists between the subway platform and the train; while attendees understood that the U.S. Department of Transportation ADA regulations allow for a minimal gap, it is believed that solving this conundrum would make the subways user- friendly to more travelers with disabilities. Another important suggestion was to expand the number of subway stations scheduled to be rendered accessible. Currently, there are about 55 wheelchair accessible stations, with about 55 more to be brought into compliance by the year 2020; however, this will still mean that the total number of accessible subways will be less than 25% of the entire system. It will probably take some diligent advocacy from the New York City disability community in the years ahead to make this happen.
FTA Office of Civil Rights Director Michael Winter summed up the conference saying, “This is not the place where we solve all of the problems of public transportation; this is where we come together to begin a dialogue.” Lisa Gesson is a former Regional Advocate.