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Testimony on The NYC Budget for FY 2003-‘04
Disability Budget & Policy Coalition Recommendations Regarding Transportation

March 20, 2003
 
Hello, and thank you for holding this hearing. I am Alexander Wood, and I represent the Disabilities Network of NYC (DNNYC).
 
The Disabilities Network of New York City (DNNYC) was launched a year ago to create “a physical disabilities impact network” representing people with motor & sensory disabilities & service providers to build a citywide coalition that unites to speak with one voice to public policymakers; finding creative solutions for problems affecting the disability community. DNNYC’s start-up has been fully funded by United Way of New York City.
 
For the past two years we have coordinated the production of a Disability Budget & Policy Coalition Agenda—a document which consists of 21 position papers outlining problem areas and proposing solutions this year.  The issues regarding transportation can be divided into the following categories:

- Access-A-Ride
- Accessible Ferries
- Accessible Taxis and Liveries
- Subway Access
- Curb Cuts
 
Regarding Access-A-Ride:
We are here to ask for the City Council’s help in finding solutions to the problems of poor service delivery. A new Paratransit Advisory Committee comprised of people from the disability community will work with the MTA’s Paratransit Division & the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to propose solutions, but it is clear right now before the meetings are ever convened that the thing would be most effective in improving AAR is to have more accessible transportation options working in the city. Instead of being the option of last resort for those of us who cannot travel by any other means, the system is overloaded because riders don’t trust subways or buses, and they want the door-to-door service even if they have to schedule in advance, wait hours for pickup and drop-off, and travel all over the city picking up and dropping off other passengers.

The good news is that we have a 100% lift-equipped bus fleet. The bad news is that service in the neighboring boroughs is atrocious—due to poorly maintained lifts, poorly trained drivers, and nothing is being done to fix the problem—prompting the threat of a lawsuit by Disabled in Action.

On Accessible Ferries, we urge the City Council to pass Intro. 261 (the Accessible Passenger Ferries Service Transportation Act), which will mandate that current operators plying their trade in NY waters will have 180 days to come into 100% compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and prove NYC as a national leader in establishing access guidelines for waterborne transportation.
 
About NYC’s surprising lack of wheelchair accessible taxis and liveries despite a Taxi & Limousine Commission regulation passed in 1999 mandating that by Oct. 2001 all new taxicabs would have to be wheelchair accessible and a $1,000,000 reimbursement conversion fund allocated by the NYC Council in 2000, thanks to the sponsorship of a young Council Member named A. Gifford Miller—which has since dried up because of the City’s budget woes (and the sad fact that the taxi industry is so vigorously resisting the move towards providing accessible service, and used only $60-80k of the money), NYC has only 4 wheelchair accessible yellow cabs—out of 12,000+ licensed vehicles, and these cannot be radio dispatched because of the regulation that prohibits medallion cabs from anything but street-hail service.
 
The Chair of the TLC will tell you he is doing everything to find factory-built wheelchair accessible vehicles, and to work with the insurers of the taxi and livery vehicles operating in NYC to lower the costs of insuring vehicles that carry disabled passengers—but after a series of 3-4 meetings since a surprise visit by activists to the offices of the TLC last Fall, no significant process has been made.
 
Regarding Subway Access, I can only say that it is a relief that the MTA has reduced the number of token booth closures from the 177 it proposed before the Mar. 6 vote of its board to just over 67… but we must be vigilant that despite fare hikes service cuts and additional booth closings don’t become the norm. For disabled subway riders, it’s important that the MTA keep the MetroCard readers at auto-gates in working order, so as to allow independent passage, particularly if the token booths will be unmanned, and there will be no one there to buzz one through the gate if the reader is not working.
 
I was shocked one day in January to find when I arrived at the 125th Street Station serving the 4,5 & 6 Trains that there was no elevator service because of extensive repairs, and that there would be no service at that station until “Summer 2003.” Since when does it take 6-9 months to repair an elevator in America?

About curb cuts, sidewalk safety, and access for people with disabilities, I just want to say that I find it interesting that NYC has just settled a lawsuit with Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, to install curb ramps wherever needed citywide in a timely manner over the next several years (a $200 million dollar project), but at the same time, signed on to an amicus brief with other member cities in the National League of Cities in support of Sacramento in its appeal to the Supreme Court in the case of Barden v. Sacramento. This is a case regarding whether or not sidewalks are covered under the ADA, ”as a program or activity.” Ironically, although both cities agree that people with disabilities should have access to the sidewalk, they do not agree that there should be accessible paths of travel between the curb cuts. In fact, NYC is going one step further in the wrong direction, in my opinion, in that the Mayor has asked for Torts Reform in the City Council, proposing legislation that would limit the City’s liability in maintaining smooth sidewalks, so that if there are trip & fall accidents, property owners would share the blame and be first-in-line, in terms of liability. Let’s just do the right thing and fix the sidewalks and streets so that we all have smooth paths of travel and can get safely from place to place.
 
In general, I want to commend the Committee on Transportation for an incredibly busy year. If you look up the Committee’s activity on the NYC Council’s website, & print out the report, you will get 3 pages listing some 50-60 separate issues examined in the past 13 months.
 
Thank you.

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