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Lawsuits Demand MTA Accessibility Plan

Almost 80 percent of New York City subway stations are not wheelchair accessible. (Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons)
Almost 80 percent of New York City subway stations are not wheelchair accessible. (Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons)
April 26, 2017

NEW YORK - New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority systematically excludes people with disabilities, according to a claim in two class-action lawsuits filed Tuesday.

A coalition of disability-rights groups filed the lawsuits in state and federal court. They allege that the MTA's failure to install elevators in most of the city's 472 subway stations is a violation of the city's human-rights law. According to Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, more than a half-million New Yorkers have some kind of disability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to use stairs.

"Right now, only around 20 percent of New York City subway stations are accessible," she said, "and it's actually even less than that when you think about the frequent elevator outages."

The MTA has said it is committed to making 100 stations fully accessible by 2020. However, according to the group Disabled in Action, at the current rate it will take the MTA more than 100 years to make the entire system wheelchair-accessible. Dooha stressed that the lawsuits are not seeking monetary damages.

"We're asking for a plan to maintain the existing elevators and to make the entire subway system accessible for people with disabilities within a reasonable time frame," she said.

In other cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, Dooha said, more than half of the stations are wheelchair-accessible now.

A 2016 study estimated it would cost less than $2 billion to make all subway stations accessible. Dooha said the MTA already has spent more than $100 billion on improvements and has a capital budget of more than $29 billion.

"The resources are there; the law is there requiring it," she said. "We're willing to allow that they do it in a reasonable time frame, as long as they achieve milestones along the way."

She added that it's been 27 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and said it's time for the MTA to obey the law.

More information is online at dralegal.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY