As with many elements of the unfunded federally mandated ADA, the MTA’s Paratransit obligations are crushing its budget. As the above graph shows, the authority’s costs are skyrocketing, and last year, for instance, it paid out $451 million to provide door-to-door service for everyone who needed (and some who did not). Now the authority is turning to a taxi cab pilot program to save money.
Earlier this week, Jay Walder and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a 90-day pilot for Access-a-Ride customers that will enable these riders to take taxis at a discounted rate. By using Chase Pre-Paid Visa cards, the 400 Access-a-Ride volunteers will be able to hail any yellow taxi for pick-ups and drop-offs south of 96th St. in Manhattan. These customers are all ambulatory, and the MTA expects costs to drop from $49 a trip to $15 a trip.
“We are working every day to find new ways to help our disabled customers navigate the city, whether it’s through our 85 accessible subway stations, fully-accessible fleet of 6,000 buses or our paratransit services,” the MTA Chairman and CEO said. “This initiative recognizes that most Access-A-Ride users don’t need a wheelchair lift, and by targeting service to the needs of different customers within the disabled community we’re able to dramatically improve service and cut costs at the same time. For the first time, our disabled customers will be able to take regularly scheduled trips by hailing a yellow taxi and using a special, pre-loaded debit card.”
So how does it work? Chase and New York City Transit worked closely to calculate potential costs for a taxi ride, and Transit has loaded money onto these debit cards. The cards are dispatched to the 400 volunteers, and every two weeks, the customers will mail the MTA a check for $2.25 multiplied by the total number of rides they took. The authority will then reload the pre-paid debit cards.
The MTA expects to save between $155,000 and $200,000 a month in the first 90 days of the pilot alone, and if the pilot is successful this plan could expand to include more and more of the city’s disabled riders. “We first proposed this idea on the campaign trail last year and later incorporated it into our joint effort with the City Council to make New York a more age-friendly city,” the Mayor said. “We are now ready to deliver on our promise to offer Access-A-Ride users more convenience and greater flexibility — at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
David Yassky, head of the TLC, praised this pilot program as well. “Using the taxi fleet will give Access-A-Ride customers better service at a cheaper cost,” he said. “This is smart transportation policy by the MTA.”
While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn’t address the problem of accessible subway travel. Due to valid concerns over cost, the MTA has been very resistant to the need to improve access underground. But that is just one of the ills of an unfunded federal mandate. The Access-a-Ride costs and debate over Key Stations might be a problem that rests on the MTA’s shoulders, but it starts in D.C. A taxi pilot is only the first step.