The State of Transit Accessibility

In light of the tragic death this week of Malaysia Goodson — a mother who fell down the stairs of a New York City subway station with her 1-year-old in a stroller — the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation is reviewing the current state of public transportation accessibility as originally covered in our 2017 report, Bringing Innovation to Paratransit. Although Ms. Goodson’s death was related to a medical condition, the New York City subway remains extremely inaccessible to caregivers and individuals with disabilities who rely on working elevators and escalators. The Seventh Avenue Midtown station, where this incident occurred, has no elevator access and only two ascending escalators. Currently, only 25% of the 472 subway stations are accessible to some extent. This statistic has remained unchanged since the release of our report.

A central component of MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan is a commitment to accelerate the accessibility of the system: in particular, it defines a goal of adding enough elevators over the next 5 years to ensure that a transit user is never more than two stops away from an accessible station. The plan also aims to add 180 elevators to the system within 10 years. The total cost of Fast Forward is estimated to be approximately $40 billion and significant funding sources have yet to been identified.

One month after the release of Fast Forward, Andy Byford announced the agency’s first Senior Advisor for Systemwide Accessibility, Alex Elegudin. This “Accessibility Chief” will be responsible for implementing the accessibility-related aspects of the Fast Forward Plan, including expanding access to subways and buses and improving the Access-A-Ride paratransit service.

The 2015-2019 MTA Capital Plan includes $1.4 billion for station accessibility improvements, with an additional $479 million for replacing elevators and escalators.

The Rudin Center’s 2017 report considered accessibility efforts in Boston and Chicago. These cities have made noteworthy strides in increasing system accessibility over the last year.

In Boston, 108 of 145 stations, or 75%, are accessible. Late in 2018, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) released new goals for accessibility in the transit system: as of December 2018, 10 new elevators were under construction and another 60 were in the design phase. The amended plan includes more detailed targets including a list of specific elevators to replace within the system.

A new community engagement group called the Riders’ Transportation Access Group will deal with oversight of accessibility requirements once the settlement agreement closes. Other commitments include “...ensuring that customers with non-apparent disabilities are granted requests for assistance, continued customer assistance at stations, addressing issues with alternative service if an elevator is unavailable, the development of accessibility design standards, and the installation of elevators directly connecting the Red and Orange Lines at Downtown Crossing, the first phase of which includes 2 new elevators servicing connections between the northbound Red Line and northbound Orange Line platforms anticipated to be substantially complete in January 2019” (MBTA, 2018).

When complete in 2020, the Wollaston Station Improvements project will make the entire Red Line 100% ADA-accessible.

MBTA has made data from its Digital Beacon Program available for an app called BlindWays on two bus routes which allows visually-impaired transit users to more easily locate bus stops. The agency hopes to eventually install 20,000 beacons throughout the bus and subway systems. Within stations and subway cars, these beacons can also be used for in-station navigation, announcements, and communication with riders.

The MBTA has also extended its On-Demand Paratransit Pilot Program until July 1, 2019, which allows users of the agency’s paratransit service RIDE to book subsidized on-demand ridesharing trips with Uber, Lyft, and Curb. However, the pilot program is intended for RIDE users who do not require assistance boarding or reaching the vehicle. Drivers for the ridesharing services included in the pilot are not required to provide ADA Complementary Paratransit service.

In Chicago, according to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), 103 out of 145 rail stations, or 71%, are currently accessible. In July of 2018, the CTA announced a comprehensive plan to increase accessibility throughout the system, the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Strategic Plan. The entire plan will cost $2.1 billion – funding for the plan has not yet been identified – and will take 20 years to complete through four separate phases. The plan includes specific goals to retrofit or rebuild 42 inaccessible rail stations and will rehabilitate or replace 162 existing elevators. The report calls for a state legislative bill to provide funding for ASAP Phase One in the immediate near-term.

By Sarah Kaufman & Christopher Polack

Cover Photo: MTA