Home Paratransit ‘Balancing a budget on the backs of the disabled’

‘Balancing a budget on the backs of the disabled’

by Benjamin Kabak

During last week’s public hearing on the fare hikes and service cuts, a common theme emerged concerning the MTA’s Access-A-Ride paratransit service. With plans to double the paratransit fares on the table, advocates for the disabled and disabled riders all said the same thing: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of those least able to get around town.

Over the weekend, The Times examined this oft-neglected aspect of the MTA’s Doomsday budget. Gregory Beyer wrote about this plight of the disabled:

[W]hile all transit riders can expect a fare hike this year — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority conducted public hearings last week on the proposal — the 123,000 users of Access-a-Ride may well face a much steeper increase, according to Kevin Ortiz, an M.T.A. spokesman. Under two of the four plans that the authority is considering to close its budget gap, the Access-a-Ride fare would more than double, to $4.50 or even $5.

“If I have to pay, I have to pay,” Mr. Suss said about the possibility of a much higher fare. “But I resent that when my income is going down, everything else is going up.”

Asked why Access-a-Ride customers would shoulder such a comparatively steep increase, Mr. Ortiz said the guidelines of the Americans With Disabilities Act allow paratransit fares to run up to twice the base fare. He added that the authority is one of the few mass transit agencies in the country that doesn’t already charge double the base fare; the paratransit systems in Atlanta, Miami, Denver and Philadelphia do. All other aspects of the paratransit service, he added, will remain the same.

Meanwhile, in today’s Daily News, New York City Comptroller and 2009 mayoral hopeful William C. Thompson sounds off on the paratransit fare increase. The Mayor, he says, alone has the power to stop this unfair fare increase. He writes:

But unlike the 23% increase proposed for subways and buses – which is likewise inequitable – the Access-A-Ride hike can be stopped right now by Mayor Bloomberg, who has the power because of a contract the city signed 15 years ago with the MTA…

[In 1992], then-Mayor Dinkins negotiated a contract with the MTA that set the cost of a trip on Access-A-Ride equal to the one-way base fare on mass transit – currently $2. The contract says that the MTA cannot change the terms of the deal without the written permission of the mayor…

Placing a greater burden on the disabled is unfair and unacceptable. It’s time for the mayor to tell the MTA that he won’t allow a doubling of the mass transit fare for Access-A-Ride users.

Additionally, advocates for the disabled threatened to sue the MTA under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they approve a 100 percent paratransit fare increase. It seems, however, based on Ortiz’s statements to The Times that the increase would be legal if unfair.

In the end, this all goes back to the same thing. It’s on Albany to rescue the MTA or else the transit authority will have to resort to the measure it has at its disposal to balance its books. It’s unpopular, it’s unfair, but it’s the only legal way without a transit bailout for New York City.

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