Advocates Suing MTA to Make More Subway Stations Accessible to the Disabled

Any subway rider knows that stations with elevators are few and far between in a system that's more than a hundred years old. Advocates are going to court, hoping to force the MTA to make more subway stations accessible to the disabled. Transit Reporter Jose Martinez has that story.

There are 469 stations in the 111-year-old subway system; fewer than one fifth of them are accessible to the disabled.

For wheelchair users like Dustin Jones, that often means longer trips and takings buses to reach one of the stations with elevators.

"Mass transit is the number one way I get around. It takes about a half an hour worth of planning. I have to make sure where I am going is accessible," said Jones, the founder of United for Equal Access. "And as always, that's not always the case."

Now, the issue has landed in court. Two disability rights advocacy groups have sued the MTA over recent renovations to the Middletown Road stop on the 6 line in the North Bronx.

The federal class-action suit charges the transit agency with ignoring the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by failing to install elevators during a $21 million station rehab.

The law guarantees the disabled access to public services, including public transportation. That means when there's a substantial renovation to an old station, the improvements must include making the station fully accessible.

The lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit disability rights legal center, isn't seeking any damages for its plaintiffs. It instead is looking to have the MTA install elevators at the Middletown Road station.

The agency says that simply isn't feasible.

That's where the two sides differ.

"Much of the subway system in New York City is above ground, and in those circumstances it's hard to contemplate a situation where an elevator would truly be unfeasible," said Rebecca Rodgers, the staff attorney for Disability Rights Advocates.

The MTA does plan to spend $564 million over the next five years to make 11 more stations accessible, but making many more subway stops accessible would cost billions.

Advocates acknowledge that it's just not feasible to upgrade every station, but they say the MTA has to do a better job.

"You've got a lot of people who are left out of the subway system that we all use," Rodgers said.

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