Video of Sunday, March 8th press conference announcing paratransit fare equity legislation with Sen. Tom Duane, Comptroller Bill Thompson, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Advocates representing the following groups also attended: United Spinal Association, United Cerebral Palsy of NYC, MS Society of NYC, Disabilities Network of NYC, Disabled in Action, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, and the 504 Democratic Club. (Note: Some additional video footage of advocates speaking was unplayable; my apologies!)
When the MTA began operating Access-A-Ride in 1993, during the Dinkins Administration, they signed a written agreement with the City of New York promising never to raise the fare above what they charged regular mass transit users. This fall, the MTA decided to break that covenant and put forward a proposal to charge Access-A-Ride users double what they have proposed to charge everyone else. Right now, when someone with a disability uses Access-A-Ride, they pay $2; the same as when someone takes the subway or rides the bus. If the MTA has their way, straphangers will be paying up to $2.50 — a burden enough for the larger New Yorker riding public — but people with disabilities who rely on Access-A-Ride are expected to pay $5.
This is discrimination, plain and simple. Unbelievably, it is 2009 and a public agency is singling out a class of people and saying, “You should pay more based on who you are.” If this was being done to people based on their race or their gender there would be widespread outrage. But sadly, discriminatory attitudes towards people with disabilities are so deeply ingrained in our society that people still need to be reminded that it is wrong.
This week, Senator Tom Duane and I are introducing legislation to force the MTA to keep their word about treating people with disabilities fairly. Our bill prevents any transportation authority in New York State from raising paratransit fares higher than what they charge regular transit users.
It is sad that this is necessary. At the MTA’s budget hearings we saw hundreds of wheelchair users and other people with severe disabilities braving a difficult commute to tell the MTA that a $5 fare would sentence them to isolation. Articulate and passionate advocates stood before the MTA Board and reminded them of the contract they made with the City of New York and admonished them to keep their word. But the MTA hasn’t changed its mind; instead, it has dug in its heels and decided to balance their budget on the backs of the riders who can least afford it.
We will not allow this to happen. As a person with a mobility impairment myself, and as a legislator, I will not sit back and watch the MTA implement a fare structure that discriminates against a class of New Yorkers. New York has a proud tradition of equality and opportunity for all, and together we can ensure that this continues. We will not allow the MTA to use this fiscal crisis to leave the frail elderly and riders with disabilities stranded.
The New York Post ran an article (“Don’t Hike Disabled Fares: Pols” 3/7/09) about this legislation last weekend.