Proposed Changes to the MTA's Pricey Access-A-Ride Program Could Improve Service, Save Millions, Advocates Say

About 150,000 disabled New Yorkers use the MTA's pricey Access-A-Ride service to get around the city each day. Two new studies are proposing ways to dramatically improve service and save taxpayers more than $100 million a year. Our Transit Reporter Jose Martinez has the details.

Sylvester Saunders says he has a tough time getting around in a subway system where only a fifth of the stations are accessible to the disabled.

"It's really, really challenging," Saunders said. "It's really disappointing. It's depressing. Because it takes me two hours what takes you an hour."

That's where the MTA's Access A Ride comes in. The federally mandated program provides buses and vans for people with disabilities. By law, the fare is equal to that of the regular transit system.

"This is a vital tool for people with disabilities," said Dustin Jones, founder of United for Equal Access New York. "It's affordable, it's accessible, and it works. When they want it to work."

But according to a new report by the Citizens Budget Commission. It cost the MTA $461 million last year. That's a high price given the relatively small number of people who use it.

"They do receive a subsidy from the city," said Jamison Dague, with the Citizen's Budget Commission. "But the fares are nowhere near large enough to cover the cost of the service."

The report says the MTA could save up to $126 million a year by replacing parts of the service with accessible taxis or for-hire car services like Uber.

"In most cases, those trips are much less expensive than using the wheelchair lift-equipped vans," Dague. "So we looked at ways to possibly move more trips that way."

The MTA claims it is taking steps to make Access A Ride more cost-effective.

The MTA says its cut close to $2 billion in paratransit spending since 2010, all while slashing the average cost of a ride from $61.81 in 2009 to $57.18 last year.

Another report, this one by the Rudin Center at NYU, says the MTA can improve Access-A-Ride users by using technology to reserve rides. Incredibly, trips must now be booked by phone or email, 24 to 48 hours in advance.

"The idea is to bring paratransit into 2016," said Sarah Kaufman with the NYU Rudin Center. "And, people should be able to use text messages, apps, websites, to reserve their trips as they need to."

These changes, advocates say, would make it easier for the disabled to get around the city, without making costly renovations to the subway system.

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