Home Paratransit The trouble with Access-A-Ride, again

The trouble with Access-A-Ride, again

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the years, I’ve touched upon the problem with the MTA’s Access-A-Ride offerings. Essentially, the paratransit service is in response to the unfunded ADA requirements, and the MTA estimates that the door-to-door service costs nearly $66 per ride. It is, in other words, a giant money suck for a cash-strapped agency, but one in which it must participate due to federal law.

Lately, the authority has begun to discuss ways to cut its annual expense — which grew to over $440 million last year. As The Daily News reported a few weeks ago, the MTA may just offer up free MetroCards for those who would otherwise qualify for Access-A-Ride service. The MTA says that just a fifth of all Access-A-Ride users are wheelchair-bound, and the rest should be able to use the bus or subway with the assistance of a caregiving who can ride for free. Allen Cappelli of the MTA Board said of the new plan, “There’s really no downside to it that I can see.”

Disabilities advocates and disabled riders see otherwise. “People don’t use use Access-A-Ride for the fun of it,” Edith Prentiss, a vice president of Disabled in Action, said. Still, as The News notes, agencies in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, have implemented similar plans successfully. It apparently does not run afoul of federal law and could save the MTA upwards of $96 million a year.

Yesterday, The News’ editorial board sounded off on the MTA’s plan. From the new plan, they claim, we can draw “two disturbing conclusions”:

The first is that thousands of people who are listed as eligible for Access-a-Ride service are not too disabled to use the subways and buses. The second is that Access-a-Ride service is so terrible that, given the slightest monetary benefit, even truly disabled people will mount herculean struggles to avoid it.

While MTA staff members say similar plans have cut costs in other cities, Chairman Joe Lhota should think more broadly and should do so in coordination with Mayor Bloomberg, who needs a hand to untangle the taxi mess his administration has created. Together, Lhota and Bloomberg should study moving toward shifting at least some passengers off the Access-a-Ride program’s clunky, unreliable vans and into wheelchair-accessible cabs and livery cars.

Provided it clamped down on eligibility — a most critical element — the MTA might well be able to deliver improved transportation at lower cost, Bloomberg might well be able to remake taxi service under an economically viable structure and the disabled might well be able to get around more conveniently.

The News has no better solution for the various stakeholders other than “work it out.” They want the MTA to work with the city and the Taxi & Limousine Commission to come up with a cost- and ride-sharing scheme that removes the some of the fiscal pressure from the MTA while providing adequate taxi service for the city’s disabled. In an ideal situation in which the city works well with state agencies, such a call may be heeded, but the MTA and New York City do not have the best track record when it comes to such cooperation.

The real eye-opener here though are the costs. Access-A-Ride service costs around $500 million annually, and the cost per rider are astronomical. A door-to-door taxi ride from most points in the city to any other doesn’t cost that much, and we can only imagine what the MTA could do to make its system more accessible if it could invest this money in physical upgrades rather than $60-per-person rides. This is one problem clearly in need of a comprehensive solution.

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AN May 1, 2012 - 1:25 am

Hell… Give me $50/rider and I’ll drive around all day taking top-notch care of all the disabled people in my section of Brooklyn.

Ed May 1, 2012 - 1:25 am

If the free metrocard idea doesn’t make it past the lawsuits, couldn’t the users be given instead $40 vouchers each day to use taxis and car services?

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 4:26 pm

Most taxicabs are completely non-accessible in NYC.

This is a scandal in itself. London has 100% wheelchair-accessible taxis and they’re used by most people with mobility impairments (canes, walkers, etc.)

Eric May 1, 2012 - 4:48 am

Will the free Metrocards be an optional alternative to AAR, or will people with free Metrocards be disqualified from AAR? If the former, I see no conceivable reason to object to giving away Metrocards.

From the article:
“The first is that thousands of people who are listed as eligible for Access-a-Ride service are not too disabled to use the subways and buses. The second is that Access-a-Ride service is so terrible that, given the slightest monetary benefit, even truly disabled people will mount herculean struggles to avoid it.”

The first, if true, I assume is not MTA’s fault. The second is not necessarily true, if the Metrocard is an optional alternative to AAR. Perhaps none of the disabled people will use their free Metrocards and all will remain with AAR. If so, then what has been lost? Only the minimal overhead of distributing Metrocards. And for every disabled rider who DOES decides to ride the subway rather than AAR, both they and MTA have won.

I’m not sure running AAR is something that’s best done by government anyway. Maybe it would be better to eliminate AAR, have disabled people submit their taxi receipts or whatever to MTA, and pay them 90% back. Buses and subways have to be government-run because otherwise company X would schedule their bus for 1 minute before company Y’s bus, taking all of Y’s passengers and making the buses effectively less frequent (this is a form of “prisoner’s dilemma” where the free market breaks down). This issue is not present regarding single-passenger vehicles (as with AAR) so better to rely on the free market’s competition and resulting efficiency.

Lenny May 1, 2012 - 10:17 am

AAR is run by the free market. The MTA puts the service out to bid and several different vendors bid to provide the service. The extreme cost is because of the inefficiency of the system. There is too much required availability for too few users. Unless you start scaling back availability there is no other significant cost savings in the current system.

SEAN May 1, 2012 - 10:45 am

Unless you start scaling back availability there is no other significant cost savings in the current system.

Hours of ARA need to match the hours of the regular transit system, so scaling back the availability of the service violates the ADA.

Nathanael May 4, 2012 - 11:58 pm

It’s been pointed out that if the whole taxi fleet were accessible (which it isn’t) it would provide a much cheaper way to provide AAR.

Nathanael May 5, 2012 - 12:02 am

“Maybe it would be better to eliminate AAR, have disabled people submit their taxi receipts or whatever to MTA, and pay them 90% back. ”

If the Taxi and Limousine Commission required that all the taxis be accessible, this would work. But as it is, there are basically no accessible taxis in NYC. See the problem?…. This is actually something which United Spinal has been suing over.

Al D May 1, 2012 - 9:34 am

The vans are a real hazard to navigation. They stink and they ride on streets and roads that they have no business being on, such as the FDR Drive and the Jackie Robinson Parkway.

Additionally, if someone is truly non-ambulatory, then they should be eligible for some kind of subsidized program, but if someone has simply lived an unhealthy life, and is grossly overweight as a result, why do I need to subsidize their comfy ride at 2,900% of what I’m paying for my miserable subway ride?! For that matter, why am I paying that much for anyone’s else’s ride!

Lenny May 1, 2012 - 10:26 am

So where do you draw the line? Do we only care for people with congenital defects, but abandon those hurt by poor lifestyle choices? Maybe they’re morbidly obese but that has nothing to do with their handicap. Then there are those who are of normal weight but wound up debilitated because they would not take their medications or listen to their doctors. What about injuries as a result of risky sports or just dumb decisions?

Al D May 1, 2012 - 11:21 am

It’s a tough question, no doubt, to distinguish eligibility and thankfully I don’t have to decide. But $132/day to ferry someone back and forth to their job? Corporate car services aren’t even that expensive, and yet we all qvetch about the bankers using them instead of getting on the train instead.

Nathanael May 4, 2012 - 11:55 pm

Unfortunately a lot of the cases of gross overweight are due to things like untreated diabetes — stuff where if we had a single-payer health care system, we might have been able to catch and stop it earlier, but we didn’t and now we can’t.

SEAN May 1, 2012 - 10:29 am

The cost of para-transit is such that transit systems across the country have been instituting restrictions on who is eligible for the service. One of the restrictions involves transit systems buying accessable busses. In many cases para-transit users are being transitioned to rideing the main line transit service knowing that the para-transit service will bee there if it is needed.

By now, most if not all bus transit systems are 100% accessable, the trouble is getting to & from the bus stops them selves, especially when there’s a wheelchair. This issue falls on the local government, i, e Bloomburg in this case in making the transition as smooth as possible.

Nathanael May 4, 2012 - 11:57 pm

The gross non-accessibility of the NYC subway system — which is not accessible to your average person with a cane, let alone a wheelchair — accounts for some of the huge demand for Access-A-Ride in NY.

Nathanael May 5, 2012 - 12:04 am

Systems which have fully accessible rail and fully accessible buses have added “travel training” (for people, such as those with poor eyesight, who are uncomfortable using the system), and are left with their paratransit system carrying mostly
(1) people from places where the sidewalks are not functional (so they can’t get to bus stops); and
(2) dialysis patients. There turn out to be a lot of these. There should probably be a special program to fund transportation just for them.

JebO May 1, 2012 - 1:58 pm

If the Federal government wants to mandate Access-a-Ride, then they should pay for it!! Mobility for the disabled is an idea that anyone can get behind. But why should the burden of paying for it be put solely on public transit riders?

SEAN May 1, 2012 - 3:00 pm

Correction, the burden falls on the transit agency & contracted partners who provide the service. The last thing you want to do is be embroiled in a legal fight with the government over an ADA mandate.

ajedrez May 1, 2012 - 11:31 pm

A lot of federal funding (maybe even all of it) depends on them having a paratransit system, so in a way, the feds are paying for AAR.

PETER May 4, 2012 - 1:18 pm

AAR its one of the biggest scam that the “MTA/NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT” has all this so called Access A Ride Carrier’s work under a contract with nyct the carrier’s pays minimum to the drivers dispatcher’s road sup they service qualities are really poor they don’t care about the disable people MTA just want their money from the federal Gov.
MTA should cut the carrier’s and take over AAR every single contract they have with this AAR carrier’s are millions of dollars a year its not just the cost of $60 for the door to door service MTA provides the AAR vehicle,gas,toll’s,vehicle service, that’s putting money on the hand of the owners of these carrier’s…

Kareem May 4, 2012 - 3:33 pm

Okay, looking at this from a resident of a city that doesn’t contract out Dial-A-Ride services, I think that it’s good idea.

The first thing that MTA should do is, phase out contracting AAR. Do the same thing they did with independent bus companies. Buy them out, bring it in house. That will reduce unnecessary cost.

Metro St. Louis’ Call-A-Ride (CAR? Get it?) is a financial black hole, too. With our low density sprawling suburbs, there’s no way they can do it without a a deficit.

Then challenge the government on it’s unfunded ADA mandate.

Nathanael May 5, 2012 - 12:00 am

“The MTA says that just a fifth of all Access-A-Ride users are wheelchair-bound, and the rest should be able to use the bus or subway with the assistance of a caregiving who can ride for free. ”

Not the subway. The subway has too many stairs. There are a lot of people with mobility problems such as arthritis who can walk short distances or take a few stairs, but can’t handle the full-flight staircases of the subway system.

This is something the MTA *should have been* proactively fixing, but instead it’s been dragging its feet on subway station accessibility.

BrooklynBus May 6, 2012 - 11:21 am

Exactly. Buses are very limited in where they go. A free MetroCard isn’t going to result in more riders using the subway if they cannot negotiate the stairs.

Ruth M. April 4, 2013 - 9:54 pm

Dear Nathanel:

I am an AAR rider and I am not wheelchair bound however, I suffer from MS and I have other health issues besides this. I feel that by you saying that it should only be for people who are wheelchair bound that is ridiculous. People who have back injuries such as I have besides my ms due to a car accident should be able to use access a ride. I can not walk upstairs and in the mta system not every station has elevators or escalators. So you really should have a little more consideration. Do you have someone in your family who is elderly or sick or disabled I hope they don’t ever have to suffer what I go through with AAR. The program stinks but if I didn’t need it I would not use it.

Nathanael December 28, 2014 - 9:28 pm

FWIW, Ruth, I was *agreeing* with you.

My fiancee has rheumatoid arthritis and can’t handle stairs, although she can walk some. We don’t live in NY, but when we visit, the subway is a *big problem*, with its stairs, and we end up using endless numbers of taxis at tremendous expense.

The MTA should have been aggressively installing elevators in every subway station. But it HASN’T.

Meanwhile, in Boston, with an older subway system, nearly every station except has elevators now, and they’re working on finishing the rest of them. Chicago is also trying to put elevators in every single station. DC already has elevators in every single station. Et cetera.

adirondacker12800 December 28, 2014 - 10:14 pm

They didn’t need elevators years ago because many people died before they got old enough for arthritis to be a problem. The ones who were disabled through an injury died at alarming rates too.

Art Vatsky June 16, 2012 - 4:45 am

Seems no one has mentioned two other factors: 1. Demographics – Baby boomers like myself are entering older age and will need AAR in probably greater numbers than currently.
2. Better route management using GPS based systems to lower transit time.
Granted AAR will never be cost competitive with standard public transit but the burden could be reduced both off and on the buses.
I have been handicapped three times (2 back operations, 1 heart attack) while living outside of NYC. Now back in good health (except for a problem knee) I use the MTA. AAR users are frequently fragile, slow moving, delicate, as I was before and after surgery. We/They are out-of-shape at least temporarily. It is best to poll former AAR users to see how instrumental it was in their recovery process.

Victoria September 8, 2012 - 12:00 am

Wow- “the rest should be able to use the bus or subway”. Disability is not synonymous with “wheelchair”. Subway stairs are prohibitive! In fact, the walking distance *between* elevators in many stations make travel difficult for those of us with restricted movement.

The subway is a huge failure when it comes to disability access.

Ruth M. April 4, 2013 - 9:59 pm

Thank you victoria someone with some type of sense.

peter pan October 30, 2012 - 10:54 am

As An AAR worker,,,the system fails because of the ridership that take advantage of the system free taxi vo for trips not taken unlimited voucher trips i ve seen one person take 20 or more in one day..the service was stopped to empire casino in yonkers but does brisk business to resorts world in queens person knowing the rules about the be outside policy and refuse to come out,,are given numerous rides from home to wherever they go most of which are medically qualified if you want this system to work come to us the workers and we of various experience levels can show you how to stop wasting money,,,we know the scams and can stop and save the public money..there is so much the public has not been told that we know that goes on at aar!!!

Ruth M. April 4, 2013 - 9:58 pm

This is public transportation for the disabled. People with disabilities do not have to be home stuck in their houses if they want to go out and have their hair done or go do some shopping what’s the problem. This is what this is for. This is the only public transportation for people with disabilities. You work for AAR I agree that people are taking advantage we are only allowed 2 round trips so by saying that someone is taking the AAR 20 times is over exaggerating.

LLAATTIINN August 14, 2014 - 6:34 pm

Don’t be coy. Tell us what bright solutions suggestions you can share with us. Thx

nic J March 15, 2015 - 8:41 am

I worked for Access A Ride for one year and I must say it’s a very horrible service. What makes the service horrible is the way the entire program is runned, the pick up and drop off schedules are insane. The cars Transit claims they pay so much for and their big guys comes in the yard evrry week to supervise don’t work properly,they entire system sucks.
The elderly and disabled on the other hand are the ones suffering,and the drivers are the ones being blamed. I do know some driver are frustrated we come to work doing an honest job following the rules and regulations set forth for us, by when you get a manifest that looks like a (2)Two year old drafted it’s hurondous, for example you’ll be stationed in Queens you’re going to the Bronx,there’s a passenger in Queens going to the Bronx,that driver from the company would drive to the Bronx empty to do the pick up and another driver from the same come would pick the Queens passenger drive him or her to the Bronx, pay toll going and coming,drive back without a passenger to Queens or Staten Island,Brookly or Manhattan most time empty when there are passengers waiting to be picked up. The other nonsensical thing they do is not allow no proper bathroom break or lunch break because you are driving around in a non ending circle.
Transit claim they making so much money and paying $60 aleast for a passenger but how much are the drivers being paid? We have no sick day,no personal day,no health insurance,the union they provide that we have to pay is useless and if you need vacation time or a time off to see your doctor you have to actually BEG for it. MTA should be ashamed of themself putting these lies out there,they collect their money at the end of the day and the elders,the disabled and the drivers suffers. How could I forget if you gets hurt on the job,they treat you like CRAP,they refuses to get you any further medical treatment once your drug test is cleared you are ok to return to work and I’m talking from experience. I loved what I did even though we are not protected by the law or getting somewhat the same benefits like transit drivers who has less work doing.


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