Home Asides Disabled groups to file lawsuit over MTA service cuts

Disabled groups to file lawsuit over MTA service cuts

by Benjamin Kabak

Over at Transportation Nation today, WNYC’s Alisa Chang profiles the plight of the city’s disabled transit riders in the aftermath of the service cuts. With Outer Borough bus service significantly scaled back, these travelers, many of whom are wheelchair-bound, find themselves taking fewer excursions and suffering through longer trips and inconvenient routes when they do head out. The anecdotes are numerous, and while firm numbers are hard to come by, Chang reports that various groups are gearing up to sue the MTA over the service cuts. These suits will allege a discriminatory effect on the basis of a disparate impact as the service cuts hit disabled riders particularly hard. I’m not familiar with the mandates of the ADA, but these legal challenges could present a problem for the MTA.

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17 comments

SEAN August 9, 2010 - 3:55 pm

Not only that, as transit systems replace there aging fleets with low floor busses, paratransit services are being restricted to those who cant ride fixed route transit. Another issue is the cost of providing such services vs the 2x fare rule i.e. you cant charge more then twice what ever the base fare is for fixed route service.

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Aaron August 9, 2010 - 4:17 pm

Ben,

Other organizations looked to sue agencies in Phoenix and LA, but basically declined to – however, in Phoenix and LA, all fixed-route service is accessible, so the cuts (especially devastating in Phoenix) screwed over everyone equally. I don’t know if there’s case law out there that says that a service cut that forces a person to take an extremely circuitous route because of the inaccessibility of the subway system has ADA claims, but I suspect that’s what it would be based on, and I suspect it would potentially be compelling, but it would probably require a Second Circuit ruling to articulate said principle. If such a suit does take place, I’d love to read the pleadings and see what the legal theories are. I’ll have to double-check a bus map at some point but I do believe there are areas served by inaccessible subway service but not bus service, and if those areas lost bus service because MTA ruled that the inaccessible subway service was duplicative of said accessible bus service, there may be a colorable claim here.

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ajedrez August 9, 2010 - 7:13 pm

Off the top of my head, the Q24 in Bushwick was eliminated because it duplicates the J train (which is inaccessable), the B13 was eliminated in Williamsburg because it duplicates the inaccessable L train, the X27 was eliminated weekends because it duplicated the R train, the X28 was eliminated weekends because it duplicated the D train, and the B39 was eliminated because it duplicated the J/M/Z trains (though it will be replaced by “dollar vans”.

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Nathanael August 9, 2010 - 7:54 pm

Disgraceful, then, that the MTA has been shirking the legal requirement to make subway stations accessible when they’re renovated. 😛 They’re just making themselve more and more prone to lawsuits, aren’t they?

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Aaron August 10, 2010 - 1:43 am

Yeah, per my prior post, a suit against those commuter vans, and the City’s TLC for permitting them, seems to be a slam dunk to me. I’m just shaking my head in disbelief at that choice.

Anyhow, I would bet that, unless there are some additional New York state law provisions for them to hang their hat on, this issue is what it’s going to be based on. Very frustrating situation, I’m sure there are folks out there who moved to those areas relying on bus service to take them to an accessible subway (there but for the grace of God go I…), and you’re right about the J, the BMT Nassau is one of the few lines that I’ve never been on because so many of the stations are inaccessible that I’ve never, ever, ever had cause to use it – I’ve even used the BMT Canarsie along 14th St but never been on the J,M,Z.

(caveat: Although I’m familiar with most of the ADA as it pertains to employment and public accommodations in principle, the public transit sections have some pretty lengthy and highly particularized regulations which I have not yet killed a ton of brain cells on yet – I’m familiar with the overall structure but there are provisions specific to NYC that may apply in this situation – once such a suit is filed I’ll definitely read the pleadings so that I am more familiar with them.)

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Sharon August 11, 2010 - 12:26 pm

what is the mta waiting for making more stations beyond the original key station plan. Ave U on the brighton is the perfect example. The station is undergoing a 100% structural reconstructions, all cement and steel (minus the track bed). They even used eminent domain expand the station width yet no elevators. There are 4 different Ave U station connected by the B3 bus. It has to reduce operating costs to install more elevators at stations where they can be installed quickly(outdoor elevated stations) and reduce the duplicate express bus routes(which are slower to the city in time) and AAR. In the case of Ave U you could reduce AAR to Kings Plaza Shopping center .

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ajedrez August 15, 2010 - 1:05 am

What’s AAR?

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Nathan H. August 9, 2010 - 5:11 pm

Let’s just sue all our problems away. Global warming? You’ve been served!

There’s no need to democratically fund our public transportation, or pay higher fares, or deal with service cuts—not when we can just sue trains into the stations, sue buses onto their routes, sue their tanks up with gas, and sue food onto our tables when things really come undone. Money is just paper, after all!

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SEAN August 9, 2010 - 7:32 pm

What are you smoking, Becksium?

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Al D August 10, 2010 - 8:59 am

No, he’s right. It was McDonald’s fault that that woman spilled coffee on her lap. Why wasn’t there a warning to keep the coffee cup level at all times, not to subject the cup to jerky, sudden motions especially when uncovered, and above all else, not to give the steaming hot coffee to a child under 1 year of age!

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Nathanael August 14, 2010 - 4:52 am

Uh, you should know the problem was that McDonald’s was serving coffee *much* hotter than typical coffee. 3rd degree burns on the groin are serious.

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John August 10, 2010 - 9:18 am

I guess I don’t see the case. Even if the cuts did hit the disabled riders particularly hard (which would seem tough to definitively prove), is there a provision of the ADA that says service cuts must screw everybody equally? Because I don’t think the ADA guarantees everyone access to “fixed route” transit.

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Aaron August 10, 2010 - 4:17 pm

See my comment above, but I think the colorable claim would focus on areas where accessible bus service was ‘replaced’ with inaccessible subway service where bus service was found to be duplicative of the subway service. I haven’t exactly researched the case law on it but given the relatively few cities where this is even a potential issue – NYC, Philly, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco (Boston also, but Boston’s ADA suit was not based on this issue) – I doubt that there’s case law on the issue thus far, as the other American cities with rail transit are basically fully accessible and thus couldn’t present this issue. But I’m hoping if they do file said suit Ben will post and comment on the pleadings, I’ll definitely review them as well when they’re available.

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rhywun August 11, 2010 - 12:09 am

“I don’t think the ADA guarantees everyone access to ‘fixed route’ transit.”

That sounds like a key point to me. It was well understood in 1990 that full compliance with the law was not even remotely possible in an old city like New York (and the Feds sure weren’t willing to fork over the money to make it happen), thus it was allowed to substitute para-transit at no more than 2x the regular fare. Unless I’m missing something, that allowance doesn’t seem to be affected by the recent cuts.

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Nathanael August 14, 2010 - 5:10 am

Boston — with an even older transit system — is providing full compliance. New York will have to do so eventually.

All the ‘old subway’ cities were given substantial exemptions from the ADA requirements, but they aren’t eternal exemptions: for instance, any substantial modification to a station is required to bring it “up to code” (so to speak) if it doesn’t add more than about 20% to the cost.

Paratransit was required not just to be no more than 2x the regular *fare*, but also required to be comparable service, e.g. no more than 2x the *trip time*. New York has managed to repeatedly fail this because paratransit is stuck in surface traffic with no bus lanes, whereas the subways can speed reliably between boroughs.

Most of the ‘old subway’ cities have, in order to minimize paratransit expense, gone for full ADA compliance as fast as possible.

For example, Boston has plans in the works for ADA compliance for practically all their T stations; one Ashmont-Mattapan station in a very bad location and a number of arguably redundant streetcar-mode stations on the Green Line are the only exceptions. The commuter rail is also aggressively working towards full system accessibility.

For another example, Chicago’s CTA (‘L’) has made massive ADA compliance improvements as part of giant line rehabs, and plans more; while the City of Chicago is simultaneously funding and building ADA conversions on the underground stations (which it owns). The target is clearly total compliance in the near future. Metra is also clearly targeting total compliance.

Philadelphia is also clearly targeting total compliance, by means similar to Chicago (big line-wide rehabs).

NYC Transit and LIRR, unfortunately, have had a bad attitude about this. NYC Transit is actually doing big line rehabs on the subway *without* adding ADA compliance everywhere. This is probably illegal as well as being stupid.

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ajedrez August 15, 2010 - 1:07 am

You’re right. That is stupid. The longer they delay making the system ADA-accessable, the longer they will have to run additional paratransit service and/or have the elderly/disabled delay buses while they wait for them to board.

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As promised, a lawsuit from disabled riders against the cuts :: Second Ave. Sagas August 19, 2010 - 1:11 am

[…] days ago, WNYC’s Alisa Chang reported on the stirrings of legal action from disabled riders who believed they were unfairly impacted by the MTA’s June service cuts. […]

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