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Statement In Support of Accessible Passenger Ferries in NYC

By Alexander Wood
Executive Director
Disabilities Network of New York City (DNNYC)

to the New York City Council
Oct. 1, 2003
City Hall
New York, NY

Good morning.  My name is Alexander Wood and I am executive director at the Disabilities Network of NYC.  DNNYC is a 2-year old, nonpartisan, New York-based organization that promotes full participation of New Yorkers with disabilities through involvement in the public policy-making process and community education.

We submit this testimony to state our support for systemic changes in New York City’s transportation infrastructure that have encouraged the growth since 2001 of a greatly expanded waterborne transportation system, but we want to encourage any move to make the system accessible to riders with disabilities. Although ferry operators have been operating in NYC for well over ten years, the ferries, piers, and shuttle buses bringing passengers to the system have been largely inaccessible. We believe that despite the provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandating that any program receiving federal monies be accessible to people with disabilities, there has never been any enforcement in NYC of the laws on the books.

DNNYC’s prior work on accessible ferries

DNNYC has presented testimony to prior Council Hearings on Accessible Ferries.  Most recently, last March, we supported the proposal for accessible ferries because if NYC passes a local law regulating waterborne commuter vessels, we will be leading the way towards establishing access guidelines in America. 
 
In the course of the past two years, working in partnership with Disabled in Action, Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, 504 Democratic Club, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and other Network members, as well as our champion in the City Council, Hon. Margarita Lopez and her staff, we have had numerous meetings with NY Waterway, NYC Water Taxi, NYC Dep’t of Transportation, the NYC Economic Development Corporation and the architects of Pier 79 at 38th Street & the West Side Highway.
 
Forward motion is happening as a result of all these meetings:
 
A new terminal is being built at Pier 79, and according to the planners and designers, accessible gangways will be put in place, so that ingress and egress to the vessel is fully ramped.

Pier 11 has been renovated, and the inaccessible Slip C on the NE corner of the pier is no longer there (with 7 or 8 steps up to a ramp that passengers used to embark or disembark the vessel)...

New shuttle buses were ordered last year and now a fleet of 81 buses has 15 equipped with wheelchair lifts. Although I have rarely seen these on the road (and one would think you had a 1 in 4 chance of seeing one), I did see that 3 out of the 15 shuttle buses I saw yesterday at Pier 78 or parked on 39th Street were lift-equipped (so that is about 20%).
 
This proposed legislation has had positive impact already, in getting the operators who ply the waters of New York harbor to work on improving the accessibility of their services and facilities, and in getting advisors from the disability community to the table in the planning stages. Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association has trained the drivers of the accessible shuttle buses at NY Waterway, and they created a training video that can be used to train new employees regarding access issues when they are hired in the future.

The future and accessible ferries

The Network’s main objective is to increase participation of people with disabilities in the mainstream life of New York City.  As we all know, NYC has been chosen to represent America as the host city for the 2012 Olympics. In a recent meeting with NYC2012 organizers and Matthew Sapolin, the director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Les Winter of Achilles Track Club and I brought up the importance of ensuring that the waterborne transportation system be accessible, so that this important transportation mode can be used by all visitors and athletes, disabled or non-disabled, who participate in the 2012 Olympics, and in the Paralympic Games that will follow shortly after.

Conclusion

Most New Yorkers exercise great choice in how they travel around the city, but for people with disabilities the options are limited. Less than 40 of the more than 460 subway stations are accessible to wheelchair users; Only 5 yellowcabs in a city with 12,187 medallion taxis are wheelchair accessible; The private bus lines that operate in the neighboring boroughs (subcontracted by DOT or the MTA) routinely neglect to pick up mobility impaired customers, and as we all know, Access-A-Ride, despite the claims of the Paratransit Division to the contrary, continues to have an unbelievable number of no-shows and customer complaints about poor service delivery.  It is time, therefore, for the City Council to take this opportunity to ensure that past wrongs are righted, that if companies are going to be awarded contracts to use city-owned piers, and transport commuters to and from work, and travelers to and from the sporting venues of the Olympics that will be held in NYC, they must comply with the laws that are on the books, local (this one and others, like the NYC Human Rights Law), state (NYS Human Rights Law) and federal (Section 504 and the ADA). 

Thank you.

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