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Mobility-Impaired New Yorkers Blast MTA’s Proposed Changes to E-Hail Program

While increasing the number of participants, the agency plans to raise costs and cap subsidies: “It very much feels like I’m being punished for using paratransit,” one commuter testified.

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Eman Rimawi-Doster, executive director of the Harlem Independent Living Center, speaks at an MTA committee meeting, July 19, 2021.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

MTA officials on Monday faced the fury of mobility-impaired New Yorkers outraged over proposed changes to a popular E-Hail pilot program that allows them to book on-demand paratransit rides.

THE CITY reported last week that the MTA plans to triple to 3,600 the number of participants who, since 2017, have been able to reserve on the fly an unlimited number of rides instead of using the more cumbersome Access-A-Ride reservation system. 

But users would see the cost of each ride going up from $2.75 to $5, as well as caps on how much the MTA contributes for each ride. The agency also plans to limit the number of taxi and for-hire vehicle trips riders can take each month to 25. 

At the MTA’s monthly committee meetings, several participants in the pilot program fumed about these changes and the impact they would have on people with disabilities.

“You wouldn’t do it to no other population,” said Manyon Lyons, who uses a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. “No other population, whether you are able-bodied or not.”

Xian Horn, a user of the E-Hail program, was near tears as she thanked MTA officials for the program while urging them to reconsider.

“It is the only form of equity that we receive,” said Horn, who also has cerebral palsy. “Imagine rationing subway riders for 25 rides a month.”

The MTA plans to boost the numbers of E-Hail users in August while maintaining the $16 million budget for the program’s first phase, which officials acknowledged was not financially sustainable or an efficient use of the agency’s resources. 

Eman Rimawi-Doster, a participant in the pilot program, said the proposed changes are likely to drive people back to standard Access-A-Ride service in which trips must be booked the previous day by 5 p.m.

“I’m simply trying to go from point A to point B and not go broke while I’m doing it,” said Rimawi-Doster, executive director of the Harlem Independent Living Center. “It very much feels like I’m being punished for using paratransit, like, shame on me for being a double amputee who uses a walker and has lupus.”

Even with an expanded base, the number of Access-A-Ride users in the E-Hail program make up just a sliver of the MTA’s overall number of 175,000 registered paratransit customers. Transit officials have also pointed out just 6% of the 1,200 users of the pilot program accounted for nearly half of its $16 million budget.

“No system is perfect,” said Richard Davey, president of New York City Transit, which oversees Access-A-Ride. “I will tell you that the system we are suggesting that the board take a look at [Tuesday] is one that is within line with our other peer transit systems across the United States.”

Chris Pangilinan, the MTA’s vice president of paratransit, is expected to provide more information at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Davey added that E-Hail service is not required to be provided.

“That being said, we want to put out the best product we possibly can,” he added. “And we’re committed to continuing to work with advocates and our customers to get it right.”

But board members heard from several unhappy customers and advocates, including some who warned that the MTA could face legal action if it goes through with the proposed changes to fare structure and subsidies.

“It is an outrage, and more than an outrage, it is illegal,” said Ruth Lowenkron, director of the disability justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. 

She added that the MTA’s plan to beef up the number of E-Hail participants is “appreciated,” but that the other financial adjustments are not as well received.

“Not by a small amount, by a large amount — tripling a pilot, that’s hugely impressive,” Lowenkron said. “But at the same time, you cannot be pulling back on it and making it worse.”

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