The MTA is being sued for not providing Access-A-Ride users the same half-priced fares that are available to seniors or disabled riders of the subway and buses.
The class action lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court this week by five plaintiffs on behalf of 160,000 users of the program and claims the transit agency is violating New York City’s Human Rights Law. The plaintiffs also contend that disabled Access-a-Ride users are being shut out of unlimited 7- and 30-day fare options. If successful, the lawsuit could force the MTA to pay out several million dollars in retroactive discounts.
Access-A-Ride is a legally-mandated program the MTA was forced to provide because of its lack of accessible subway stations. Only about 30% of the 472 subway stations are accessible.
One plaintiff is Sheila Murray, 65, a retired federal employee who lives in the Bronx on a fixed income. She has been using the Access-A-Ride program since 2015, taking about 30 rides a month.
Murray said if she could take the subway or bus, she would — and she’d qualify for the half-price trips. But, because she can only use paratransit, there are no reduced fares for her.
“Discounted fares would tremendously impact my life in terms of being able to travel more than I travel now — and less income being spent on transportation,” Murray told Gothamist.
“It really makes it hard for people with a disability to be fully integrated, participating members of society,” said Christopher Schulyer, a senior staff attorney with New York Lawyers for Public Interest Disability Justice Program, one of the lawyers representing the five plaintiffs.
The suit argues many Access-A-Ride users are living on a fixed income and, if they could ride the subway or bus, would be qualified for a half-priced MetroCard.
“The MTA can and must stop penalizing New Yorkers for their disabilities,” Daniel A. Ross, senior staff attorney with Mobilization for Justice Inc., another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, wrote in a statement.
This week, Mayor Eric Adams agreed to increase funding for the Fair Fares programs, which offers half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers who meet the federal poverty threshold, and can be used for Access-A-Ride.
The MTA has been asking the city, which administers the Fair Fares program, to change the qualification threshold from the federal poverty level that the Fair Fares program currently uses now to determine eligibility, to the New York poverty level, which is higher due to the higher cost-of-living in the city. (The federal level for a family of four is $27,750; the NYC poverty level for a family of four was $36,262 in 2019.)
Access-A-Ride user Xian Horn said she’s grateful the cost of the program has been in line with subway fares, but said service quality has declined during the pandemic, often leaving riders stranded. Offering half-priced fares, she believes, is “the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”
“If your income is $900 a month, it could make the difference between if you eat or not and can cover basic living costs,” Horn wrote to Gothamist.
The MTA is currently facing several subway accessibility lawsuits over its lack of elevators and lack of elevator maintenance.
While the agency continues to fight those lawsuits, it is moving ahead with what it calls an “aggressive” program of installing elevators. The current capital program has $5 billion dedicated for making 71 stations accessible with new elevators and ramps. At the most recent MTA board meeting the head of capital construction noted that the funding for a third of those stations has been committed.
In the last year, the MTA made accessibility upgrades at the Avenue H station in Brooklyn, the 57 Street Station in Manhattan, the Gun Hill Road Station in the Bronx, and Court Square-23 Street in Queens.
The MTA declined to comment on the pending litigation.