Leaders from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) gathered at the Coney Island Yard to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, unveil accessibility enhancements coming to buses and subway cars, and highlight recent accessibility projects.
“My mission at the MTA is showing that accessibility and equity are one and the same,” said Quemuel Arroyo, MTA chief accessibility officer. “New Yorkers deserve the most equitable transit system in the world, and we must do everything we can to strive towards accomplishing that. In my short time here, steady progress has been made, most recently at the Avenue H subway station in Brooklyn. That progress must continue, and the upcoming accessibility upgrades to our fleet is an encouraging sign that we are trending in the right direction.”
Throughout 2021 and 2022, the MTA expects to put more than 800 new buses into service with more flexible seating options in the priority and courtesy seating area designed to accommodate diverse customer needs. The buses will feature three new, single seats indicated by decals that will be able to flip up to accommodate customers with walkers, folded strollers, and other belongings. Two are single aisle-facing seats on the bus operator’s side and one is a forward-facing seat on the curb side.
The new buses will also feature wider doors and ramps designed to make it easier to enter and exit the bus.
All New York City Transit buses are already fully wheelchair accessible, either through the front-door ramp on local and SBS routes or via lifts on the coach-style express buses, and route and service information is made available to all customers in audio and visual formats. The MTA has worked in recent years to fully revamp Americans with Disabilities Act training for bus operators. For the 31st anniversary of the act, the MTA acknowledged operators who have received customer commendations for providing outstanding accessible service over the years.
Subway Cars with Wider Doors and More Space for Wheelchair Users
This month, the MTA unveiled the newest cars in its fleet, known as the R211 fleet. The cars feature 58-inch door spans that are eight inches wider than standard doors on existing cars, and include more spacious seating options for wheelchair users at the end of the cars. The expanded doors are designed to reduce delays and increase train movement by speeding boarding and reducing the amount of time trains sit in stations. The MTA began qualification testing this month and expect the cars to begin serving passengers on select lettered lines next summer.
The designated ADA locations in the train cars have been relocated, adjacent to doorways clearly identified with decals both on the floor and wall. In the one of every two cars there will be two areas, on either side of the car, with three individual flip up seats instead of one bench seat on existing models. With the seats up, the area expands to 54 inches. Train cars will also has a color-coded priority seating for those who need it.
Also included in the redesign, are The Passenger Emergency Intercom (PEI) and Passenger Emergency Handle Unit (PEHU) being lowered to 46 inches. The new design includes instructions for use of the Passenger Emergency Intercom in both Braille and Tactile lettering. Front, Side ,and Ceiling Interior electronic signage all follow the ADA guidelines for the visually impaired.
The MTA began the year-long qualification period this month. Production cars will begin deliveries in September 2022, with all 440 cars in the base order delivered by September 2024.
With Access-A-Ride customers returning at a higher rate than that of any other MTA mode of public transportation, the MTA has replaced 40% of its older diesel fleet with gas-powered vehicles that have better lighting, climate control, reliability, and maneuverability to the fleet. Weekday ridership on paratransit is currently around 80% of pre-pandemic levels.
“When ridership was decimated at the height of the pandemic, and service shifted to essential service, our paratransit service never scaled back, so we understand the importance of accessibility. It must and will always remain a core priority,” said Craig Cipriano, president of the MTA Bus Company and sr. VP, buses, New York City Transit, which oversees the Access-A-Ride program. “On the 31st anniversary of the ADA, we are proud of the significant improvements we have made for our over 160 thousand paratransit registrants and will continue to work hard to make key accessibility improvements in both the bus and paratransit services.”
To ensure the health and safety of customers and service providers, dedicated vehicles are disinfected daily and customized permanent polycarbonate driver barriers have been installed on 1,300 dedicated vehicles. As New York continues to recover from the pandemic, paratransit is providing customers with 85% direct service and approximately 70% of trips are on the Authority’s enhanced broker service, which allows for-hire-vehicles and yellow and green taxis to provide Access-A-Ride service. The MTA is expanding broker capacity with the award of a new contract this month, further improving service through the deployment of a new state-of-the-art scheduling system, and moving to the next phase of the popular on-demand e-hail program.
MTA’s Commitment to Advancing Accessibility
The MTA remains committed to increasing access and ensuring the system meets the needs of all riders, including those with disabilities. That commitment was advanced when Arroyo joined the MTA in February to oversee all matters pertaining to accessibility. In addition to fashioning MTA-wide policy and initiatives in the accessibility space, Arroyo serves as a liaison for the region's diverse community of disability rights advocates. Arroyo previously served in a similar capacity at the New York City Department of Transportation and most recently was Interim President and Global Head of Community for GetCharged Inc., overseeing strategic partnerships and government relations.
Over the past 18 months, the MTA has completed 13 accessibility projects since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, spanning across four boroughs of New York City. Most recently, the agency completed its first accessibility upgrade project under the historic 2020-2024 Capital Plan, at the Avenue H Q subway station in Brooklyn.
In 2021, the MTA completed accessibility projects at the 57 St station on the NQRW lines in Midtown Manhattan, the Gun Hill Rd station in the Bronx and to the Manhattan side of the Court Sq-23 St station in Queens.
In December 2020, the MTA announced a major accessibility project that will include eight stations throughout the five boroughs as the Authority remains committed to increasing its number of fully ADA-compliant stations ensuring that no customer will be more than two stations away from an accessible station.