by ComptrollerNYC
 Comptroller Thompson's Blog
Jul 28, 2009 | 30343 views | 0 0 comments | 771 771 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Nearly two decades ago, the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law to protect and enhance the rights of people with disabilities. 

In the years that have passed, we have made great strides.  We see the symbols of this progress every day in the forms of accessible subway stations, assistive listening devices at movie and Broadway theaters and curb cuts on corners just to name a few.   

However, we all know that there is still a long way to go — that in recent years especially, the issues facing New Yorkers with mobility, sensory, cognitive and other types of disabilities have too often been overlooked and ignored. 

We must once and for all confront the policies and practices that create unacceptable barriers for members of the disability community as they interact with our built environment, our transportation system and our housing stock.   

Despite all of our efforts, the transportation system remains unreliable and too inaccessible. This is nothing short of an injustice because transportation is the lifeblood of this city, especially mass transit.   

Unfortunately, one program that serves as mass transit for people with disabilities is falling far short of its promise. No-shows and unanswered complaints are just some of the many criticisms that I have heard about the Access-A-Ride program over the years. 

My office undertook an audit to determine whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s New York City Transit adequately monitored the Access-A-Ride vendors with which it contracted. My auditors found a number of procedures and practices which have contributed to the frustrations that the disability community has voiced for years.  

For example, we found that the MTA had no systematic method to evaluate how accurate its contractors were in classifying who was responsible for a no show — the contractor, the passenger or neither. Instead, the agency’s reviews of completed routes were sporadic, and there was no protocol for deciding how many or which routes to review, or what no-show trips on a route to further investigate. 

Moreover, we discovered that for vehicles without a GPS navigation system, the MTA cannot determine whether the contractor’s vehicle was at the right location at the right time. For those vehicles in our review that did have GPS, nearly one-quarter either did not have the system turned on or said it wasn’t working, making it difficult to corroborate the records for those vehicles as well.   

What we have here is a clear absence of accountability, one that significantly increases the risk of a contractor understating their no-shows to enhance their performance and receive incentive payments for which they are not entitled, or avoid penalties for which they are liable.   

Predictably, reviews of sample cases conducted by the MTA’s own analysts from January 2008 to February 2009 revealed that the majority of no-show classifications that had to be changed — an incredible 73 percent — were originally reported as customer no-shows.  Of those, nearly 75 percent were changed to contractor no-shows and 25 percent were changed to no-fault no-shows.   

Such carelessness on the part of Access-A-Ride vendors can have enormous consequences because if riders are wrongfully blamed for not showing up, it could possibly lead to an unfair service suspension, leaving eligible registrants unable to travel. 

Additionally, we found that there is virtually no evidence that the MTA takes any meaningful steps to discuss complaint patterns with individual carriers, or require corrective action plans from carriers to improve the quality of the service. This shows a stunning indifference to the challenges you face and it is simply unacceptable. 

NYCT must develop written guidelines to ensure that each carrier’s no-shows are reviewed on a continual basis and in a systematic and consistent manner, and the agency must ensure that contract managers utilize the complaint-tracking data to identify negative trends and ensure that the carriers take the steps necessary to correct the problem.   

It is time that those responsible for the Access-A-Ride program — the MTA and the City — recognize that the current design of the program contributes to the oversight and service quality problems identified in our audit.   

One solution? Reduce the reliance on Access-A-Ride vehicles by substituting rides in accessible taxicabs and livery service, which, per-ride, is at least two-thirds cheaper. These reduced costs would in turn benefit the City, which pays a portion of Access-A-Ride.  And passengers could get a ride when they need one rather than waiting 30 minutes or more — if the vehicle comes at all.  

As a member of the Taxis for All campaign steering committee, my office is working with advocates to pressure the Taxi and Limousine Commission to end its shameful disregard for people with disabilities. 

We recently wrote the Mayor, calling on him to require that all taxicabs are accessible to people with physical and sensory impairments, and that livery services provide meaningful access as required by law, as well. 

The reason we’re pushing him and the TLC so hard is because we know that accessible transportation is a fundamental requirement for living independently and taxis and livery service are important components of our City’s transportation system. However, the ultimate solution to lowering the cost of Access-A-Ride and improving the transportation experience for people with disabilities is to increase the accessibility of mass transit.   

While there will always be a group of people for whom Access-A-Ride or accessible taxis would be the only viable option, there are others who, if the right policies were put into place, could use mass transit.   

These policies include ensuring that elevators and escalators in subway stations are in service at all times, and that repairs are made quickly and thoroughly; that signs in subway stations and on trains are accurate and widely available to assist people with hearing impairments, and announcements are intelligible for people with vision impairments; and that every bus driver announces major stops, pulls the bus over to the curb for boarding and disembarking, and knows how to properly secure a wheelchair. 

Another key to make New York a more accessible city is to address the housing crisis. There are simply far too few accessible housing units in the city, and many of the units that are accessible are not affordable.  Private developers and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development should provide both accessible and affordable housing units for people with disabilities in New York City.  

We must create revolving low-interest/no-interest loan funds to help people make their homes accessible so that they can remain living independently in the community.  Once we have these accessible apartments and homes, we need a centralized, comprehensive, up-to-date database to help match people with the housing they need. And, finally, the City needs to support legislation to create parity between SCRIE and DRIE.   

Even if people with disabilities have a place to live and a way to get around, the absence of a job and a decent income leaves people, as one advocate put it, “… all dressed up with no place to go.”  And in today’s highly competitive world, our city cannot afford to overlook or waste anyone’s talents and abilities. 

It is simply unacceptable that as a group, people with disabilities are among the poorest in the nation. Mostly to blame are the powerful disincentives built into benefits programs like Medicaid, SSI, and SSD. These disincentives — combined with the low wages many employed individuals with disabilities receive — force many individuals with disabilities to choose to forego paid work, and have led to a chronically high unemployment rate of over 70%. 

Government officials must ask tough questions about how to help people with disabilities receive the education and work experience needed to obtain jobs to become economically self-sufficient. 

Together, we have a lot of work to do. Disability issues must be a high priority for City government. People with disabilities should serve in top level positions and as agency staffers. The disability community must be at the table when policies affecting them are designed and implemented. 

The agencies charged with protecting the rights of people with disabilities — such as the City Human Rights Commissions — should be given the resources and the encouragement to carry out their mission, and government and the private sector must forge effective partnerships to achieve these goals. 

Let us continue to move New York from a city of exclusion to a city of inclusion by remaking it into a place accessible for all.



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