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Judge Approves MTA Deal to Make Subways 95% ADA-Compliant by 2055

Despite the distant due date, advocates mostly cheered the settlement, part of a long, multipronged push to make the transit agency comply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Kathleen Collins, a congenital quadruple amputee, was a plaintiff in the suit whose settlement commits the MTA to equip nearly all its stations with ramps or elevators, April 7, 2023.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

A Manhattan federal judge on Friday approved a settlement to a class action lawsuit that locks the MTA into equipping 95% of subway and Staten Island Railway stations with elevators or ramps — with a deadline three decades away.

The approval by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos caps one part of a long-running push by advocates for people with disabilities to improve access to a transit system where merely a quarter of the nearly 500 stations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“I know this is a very difficult thing to achieve,” Ramos said to a courtroom audience that included multiple plaintiffs who use motorized wheelchairs.

The MTA announced the settlement last June — agreeing to install elevators or ramps by 2055 at the more than 300 stations that are currently inaccessible to wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments — but it wasn’t made official until Friday.

“The transportation system is the lifeline of the city,” lawyer Chloe Holzman of Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit legal rights center that represented the plaintiffs, told THE CITY. “And especially for people with disabilities, it’s critical to be able to access employment, education, medical care, family and friends, socializing, entertainment, all the things that people enjoy about New York.”

Local Stops

Under the terms of the settlement, the transit agency is also committed to meeting several marks in order to keep the 2055 goal on track, including making 81 more stations accessible as part of its more than $50 billion 2020 to 2024 MTA Capital Program. And 15% of New York City Transit’s portion of future capital plan funding must now be set aside for accessibility upgrades.

“It’s a good day, it’s a good day,” said Dustin Jones, a 34-year-old wheelchair user who is a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit against the MTA. “Once again, you know, the disability community has to sue the MTA to get things done.”

The transit agency has been sued repeatedly over subway accessibility in federal and state courts.

Dustin Jones is among the New Yorkers with disabilities who has sued the MTA over lack of access to the subway system, April 7, 2023.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

Jean Ryan, a motorized wheelchair user who heads the advocacy group Disabled in Action, pointed to the nearly $1 billion Enhanced Station Initiative championed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016 that did not include elevators.

“They can’t just do what they want anymore,” said Ryan, 78, who rode in the subway for 25 years before she began using a motorized wheelchair. “People were upset when they were renovating the stations and then they opened the stations and it was just fancy tiles.”

The 2019 federal lawsuit flagged what it called the MTA’s “blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act” by not including elevators or ramps as part of station upgrades.

The MTA backed down in that case last year.

“In the last few years, we at the MTA have come to the same place as our partners in the advocacy community,” Janno Lieber, chairperson and CEO of the authority, said at the time. “And more important, we were able to prove to ourselves and to the world that it is not only a civil right, but it’s actually achievable to drastically accelerate the the pace of ADA accessibility in our system.”

MTA spokesperson Kayla Shults said Friday that the agency is “pleased” with the approval of “this historic agreement.”

Kathleen Collins, a congenital quadruple amputee who was part of the lawsuit, noted the fight for subway accessibility started long before the ADA was put into law in the 1990s.

“Since 1973, any agency that received federal funding based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, they were supposed to be making things accessible,” Collins, 65, told THE CITY. “So we’re talking now close to 50 years.”

More Pending Litigation

Holzman said in court Friday that Disability Rights Advocates attorneys are “very close to resolving” another lawsuit filed against the MTA that challenged the agency for not installing elevators at the Middletown Road station on the No. 6 train in The Bronx when it was closed for renovations between October 2013 and May 2014.

In 2018, then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman joined that lawsuit, charging that the MTA ignored a push from the Federal Transit Administration to make the elevated station accessible, contending it was not feasible to install elevators. The FTA concluded it would have been possible to install one or more elevators at the stop in Pelham Bay.

A woman carries a stroller down the steps at the 39th Avenue-Dutch Kills subway stop in Queens, which didn’t get elevators during extensive renovations, Feb. 17, 2020.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The Bronx station will eventually have elevators installed as part of the settlement finalized Friday.

Another federal case over subway elevators remains unresolved, as THE CITY reported last month. In that suit, the MTA is accused of failing to properly maintain existing station elevators throughout the transit system.

“The maintenance is so important,” Ryan said. “Why have elevators if you can’t use them?”

Collins, 65, said she rarely uses the subway because of its lack of elevators and instead relies on the MTA’s paratransit system, which has also been called out for allegedly violating the ADA by failing to provide a level of service that is comparable to the bus and subway.

Relying on Access-A-Ride has added up, she said, to “a limited life.”

“My boyfriend’s going to come pick me up and he’s going to take the subway and it’s going to take him 20 minutes,” Collins said. “When I took Access-A-Ride to get to court this morning, I said I wanted to be here at nine and they picked me up at 7:35 a.m.

“Look at the difference — it’s not small.”

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