The MTA has terminated a multimillion-dollar contract with a company that was supposed to improve the agency’s paratransit performance but instead delivered a string of failures, THE CITY has learned.
StrataGen Systems Inc. was awarded the $49.6 million deal by the MTA board in September 2018 to replace Access-A-Ride’s “outdated” scheduling and dispatch operations, and to deliver technology that monitors the real-time speed, location and direction of paratransit vehicles.
Sources close to the deal told THE CITY that the MTA moved to end its contract with StrataGen after the Redmond, Wash., company repeatedly ran into delays on delivering critical service improvements for New Yorkers who rely on the blue-and-white Access-A-Ride vehicles because their disabilities keep them from riding subways or buses.
Less than a third of the $50 million was spent, a source familiar with the contract said.
“We won’t comment on contract disputes, even when they involve a vendor’s poor performance and project delays,” MTA spokesperson Tim Minton said in a statement. “The MTA’s priority must be efficient expenditures of taxpayer funds to deliver reliable and safe service.”
StrataGen, whose Vancouver, Canada-based parent company DDS Wireless notes that its technology is used by “some of the largest paratransit authorities in North America,” did not respond to multiple requests for comment from THE CITY.
But the firm’s longtime partnership with New York City Transit — which goes back to at least 2002 — had been strained since 2019 by the agency’s dissatisfaction with StrataGen’s delays and performance. That dissatisfaction resulted in penalties, according to internal agency documents from summer 2019 obtained by THE CITY.
In one communication with New York City Transit, a StrataGen official apologized for the MTA’s “dissatisfaction with the delays” and pledged to deliver the intended benefits of the contract “in the shortest time possible.”
Users of the paratransit service and advocates for people with mobility challenges say Access-A-Ride needs all the help it can get.
“By pulling this contract and not getting what was promised, that sets the system back even further,” said Jose Hernandez, a paratransit customer and president of the United Spinal Association’s New York City chapter. “There is no real-time scheduling, there is no computer-aided dispatch.”
The move to put an early end to the nearly 10-year agreement with StrataGen comes as Access-A-Ride daily ridership has returned to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels. It also follows the Justice Department flagging the MTA in October for violating federal disability law by not providing paratransit service comparable to that of the subways or buses.
THE CITY reported in November 2021 that Access-A-Ride reliability had sunk to its lowest point in years. MTA officials last week, however, hailed what they said was a 98% on-time performance in January for the agency’s paratransit “primary carriers” — the traditionally blue-and-white vehicles — along with what they called record-high customer satisfaction.
The MTA’s primary carriers had nearly 140,000 total trips in November, according to the most recent publicly available data from the agency. So-called broker services — the individual contract vehicles that carry more than 70% of all Access-A-Ride customers — logged close to 370,000 trips that same month.
A City Council oversight hearing on Access-A-Ride is scheduled for February 24.
‘Drivers With iPads’
Riders who depend on the vans said they had hoped newer technology would improve scheduling for their travels around the city.
“If you have bad scheduling, you will have people getting dropped off too early, getting dropped off too late,” said Jean Ryan, a paratransit customer and head of the advocacy organization Disabled In Action. “All those things relate to bad scheduling.”
Hernandez, who is also a member of an MTA advisory committee for paratransit service, said the contract failure will result in the use of more antiquated systems.
“They are going to provide drivers with iPads so they can have some kind of GPS in their vehicles and monitor the location,” he said.
The MTA confirmed that iPads are being installed in primary carrier vehicles — not being given to individual drivers — to replace the StrataGen system.
Records show 15 companies responded to the MTA’s initial February 2017 “request for information,” with StrataGen ultimately winning out because it provided “better system functionality,” according to an MTA staff summary of the contract.
“This was a contract they were very focused on because the system wasn’t working for them,” said Joseph Rappaport, executive director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled.
The MTA declined to say how it plans to come up with a new dispatch system for paratransit customers or how much one might cost.
“There definitely needs to be a fix,” Hernandez said. “There is no reason why companies like Uber and Lyft have real-time dispatching while the paratransit system does not have one that is modern and capable of providing equal service to people with disabilities.”