Some disabled riders are complaining that the MTA stranded them before Hurricane Sandy by shutting down the Access-A-Ride service that helps them get around town hours before bus and subway service was suspended. NY1's Tina Redwine filed the following report.
Mary Beth Melendez is blind. She lives alone on Staten Island and depends on Access-A-Ride since construction took out the sidewalks she used to navigate to her closest bus stop.
Clients who use Access-A-Ride have to pay $2.25, the same as a trip on the subway. But unlike the subway, you have to book in advance, at least the night before. Melendez hoped to get a ride to one of the shelters the city opened on Sunday, October 28, the day before Sandy hit, so she called Access-A-Ride Saturday night. She said they told her service was already suspended.
"I was stranded," she said. "I was frightened. I was concerned. I was angry."
With no other transportation, Melendez called a car service and paid $25 for that trip to the shelter.
"I thank God that I had that money in my wallet at the moment," she said. "But what if I didn't?"
The MTA said the Access-A-Ride dispatcher should have booked her trip for Sunday, as long as she left before noon. That's when the authority had scheduled the last outbound Access-A-Ride trips. But other disabled riders questioned why the cutoff was at noon, seven hours before transit buses started being taken out of service.
The MTA said Access-A-Ride is contracted out to several companies, so they needed more time to safely shut the system down. That was unacceptable, said Melendez, especially for this more vulnerable population.
"We have to have a backup system in place so people aren't disconnected again," she said.
The MTA said it tried its best to alert clients by posting this information on the website.
Otherwise, clients were told when they called. For many, it was too late.