Ridership on MTA paratransit services that move New Yorkers with limited mobility is back to nearly 70% of pre-pandemic totals — but a shortage of app-based drivers is bringing down service reliability, new statistics show.
Total paratransit ridership hit almost 667,000 in April, one of the highest marks since February 2020, when the figure surpassed 966,000. Meanwhile, riders returning to public life as the pandemic recedes are confronting a slip in on-time cab performance, largely due to a dearth of drivers for a popular ride-hailing pilot program.
MTA figures show that the companies contracted to provide transportation for commuters with disabilities have, since February, failed to meet the 85% on-time performance goal that requires them to pick up people within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. In April, that figure fell to 82% — down from 91% in January.
“One out of every five rides is more than 15 minutes late — that’s a very poor record,” Joseph Rappaport, executive director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled told THE CITY. “In February, things started going very badly.”
The unhappiness over the slip in service surfaced Wednesday at an MTA board meeting where officials acknowledged that paratransit customers have been hit hard by a shortage of taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers who participate in an e-hail pilot program subsidized by the transit agency.
“Pre-pandemic, there was something in the neighborhood of 13,000 vehicles that customers could avail themselves of,” said Craig Cipriano, head of the MTA’s bus and paratransit operations. “Today, we’re understanding there is less than 4,000, so it’s a general industry issue.”
He spoke, from his office, via Zoom, during the first partially in-person MTA board meeting since the pandemic hit last spring.
‘A Troubling Trend’
The “On-Demand e-hail” program, which launched in 2017, allows 1,200 Access-A-Ride users to electronically book $2.75 taxi rides immediately, without having to reserve trips a day in advance.
But a dropoff in the number of taxis and for-hire vehicle drivers on the road during the pandemic has sharply cut into the available options for riders with limited mobility.
“We are seeing an uptick in concerns and complaints for good reason,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit.
MTA numbers show that passenger complaints about the quality of paratransit service have increased since January.
A court last month put a temporary halt to plans to expand to four the number of companies that can dispatch wheelchair-accessible taxis and vans to transport disabled riders.
Eman Rimawi, the Access-A-Ride campaign coordinator for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said the ride-hailing program has “dramatically” improved the quality of life for its 1,200 participants, but said it’s fallen victim to a “troubling trend” of rides being unavailable.
“It’s taking up to three hours to get a ride, just like the bad old days,” said Rimawi, who is a double amputee. “This is neither equitable nor reliable.”
‘It Gets Frustrating’
As she waited Wednesday for a taxi outside her Gramercy apartment, wheelchair user Milagros Franco said booking rides through the Curb app on her phone has become a crapshoot.
“Lately, it could be half an hour, or they don’t come at all,” she said. “I hope it comes, we’ll see.”
Franco, 45, waited more than 10 minutes while the app searched for a nearby driver.
“It gets frustrating, especially since you know it worked beautifully in the beginning,” she said. “They would come running, sometimes you would have more than one taxi coming for you and that felt wonderful.”