August 17, 2010, Brooklyn, NY: Today, plaintiffs RueZalia Watkins, Anthony Trocchia, and Clara Reiss, all people who are unable to travel long distances on their own or make use of the subway system because of their mobility impairments, along with Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York and The Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled Inc., both non-profit agencies that advocate on behalf of disabled New Yorkers, filed suit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and New York City Transit (NYCT).
They are challenging cuts to the City’s bus system and its complementary paratransit system that leave them without public transportation service comparable to that provided to non-disabled people, in violation of their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The plaintiffs are represented by South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS) (a program of Legal Services NYC), the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff and Abady. Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction reversing the MTA and NYCT service cuts and restoring paratransit services.
The lawsuit challenges city-wide service cuts implemented by the MTA and NYCT beginning on June 27, 2010, cutting eighty-nine bus lines. These service cuts have forced transit passengers either to travel a greater distance to an alternate bus route or to travel by subway rather than by bus. For Plaintiffs, however, both of these options are impossible, thus imposing a greater hardship on people with disabilities than on people without disabilities. And they cannot rely on the City’s already overburdened paratransit system – Access-A-Ride – because rather than ensuring that additional resources are devoted to Access-A-Ride in anticipation of the increase in demand occasioned by the reduction in bus service, the Defendants have instituted or approved significant cuts to the system. There are approximately 138,000 individuals approved for Access-A-Ride and disabled riders made 5.8 million trips on Access-A-Ride in 2008; the June 27th transit cuts are estimated to eliminate 26,000 trips on Access-A-Ride each year.
The individual plaintiffs all are mobility-impaired and travel either via wheelchair or with a walker. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit asserts that the Defendants’ actions violate both the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ADA mandates that public entities may not discriminate against people with disabilities and may not deny them the benefits of services provided to people without disabilities. And the law makes it clear that it is “discrimination” for a public entity which operates a fixed route system to fail to provide paratransit services that are “comparable to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities using such system.” This includes response time, which also must be comparable, to the extent practicable, to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12143(a) (2). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against a protected class by any program which receives federal assistance.
“It is unacceptable that special-needs riders, and others who depend solely on bus lines to travel for work and to other boroughs, as well as individuals who ride during overnight hours are now subjected to finding other means of transportation, or not traveling at all. Taking the bus is simply a better option for the mobility-impaired because of the lack of elevators at most MTA subway stops,” said Council Member Letitia James, who supports the suit.
“The MTA provided absolutely no accessible public transportation until people with mobility impairments sued them in the early 1980s. Two lawsuits ultimately resulted in the current fully accessible bus service, the existence of the paratransit system, and limited improvements in accessibility of the subway system. It is a shame that it now requires another lawsuit to maintain access to public transportation for people with mobility impairments in this city,” said Jane Greengold Stevens of NYLAG, who was lead attorney on one of the two suits in the 80s.
Mobility-impaired people in Brooklyn who previously relied on the buses to get to Manhattan are particularly affected by the cuts. As stated by Marvin Wasserman, the Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled, which is a plaintiff in the suit: “persons with disabilities in Brooklyn have suffered a disproportionate share of MTA’s transit cuts, as far more bus routes were cut in Brooklyn than any other borough. In particular, wheelchair users who have relied on bus service to Manhattan to go to jobs, medical appointments, and socialization have found their lives seriously disrupted. The TLC’s proposal to replace some of these routes with so-called ‘dollar-vans’ does not assure wheelchair users that they will be able to use them.”
Plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the Defendants’ failure to provide people with disabilities with access to public transportation violates the ADA and Section 504 and a permanent injunction directing the Defendants to restore bus service and maintain Access-A-Ride service necessary to provide to people with mobility impairments access to public transportation comparable to that provided to non-disabled riders.
Contacts: Jane Greengold Stevens - (212) 613-5031 (o), (718) 791-3408 (cell); Pavita Krishnaswamy - (718) 246-3269 (o), (718) 809-2863 (cell)