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Subways Suck For New Yorkers With Disabilities. This Guy Wants To Change That.



sabway disabilities

As New York City takes drastic action to fix its ailing subway system, the transit network remains inaccessible to many people with disabilities.

Critics have been vocal about the subway system’s lack of elevators, incomprehensible speaker system and inconsistent communication about construction or outages, to name a few shortcomings. And it seems like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subway, is finally listening.

The MTA appointed Alex Elegudin in June as the agency’s first-ever accessibility chief. Elegudin, who uses a motorized wheelchair, is tasked with making the subway better for people with disabilities.

He certainly has his work cut out for him: Only 118 of 472 stations are wheelchair-friendly, making New York’s one of the least accessible subway systems in the country, per The New York Times. The Big Apple is home to nearly 1 million people with disabilities, 99,000 of whom use wheelchairs.

The MTA is notoriously slow to implement change. But just three months into his tenure, Elegudin is already talking with disabled New Yorkers to find out what changes they actually want. One of his biggest goals, as part of the MTA’s ambitious Fast Forward plan for rapid improvements to the subway, is to make 50 additional stations wheelchair-accessible within five years.

A former patent attorney, Elegudin switched careers to advocate for people with disabilities before joining the MTA in his new role. “There are thousands of other attorneys in New York City who can do the job that I was doing, but not a lot of people taking on this kind of disability advocacy role,” he told HuffPost.

We spoke with Elegudin to learn more about his plans for the New York City subway system.

What are the challenges of using the subway system as a wheelchair user?

I think it’s gotten a lot better over the years, but it is a challenge. For power-wheelchair users, one of the biggest challenges is the gap [between the train and the platform]. Sometimes I wait for one or two trains to come through before I feel like the gap is acceptable.

The other big challenge is elevator outages. If an elevator is out, you’re not going to make it to wherever you’re going. It takes quite a while, sometimes hours, to go to another station, wheeling back around, or going above ground and getting out above.

In your new role as the MTA’s accessibility chief, what are some of your top priorities?

We’re doing a big review of all trainings and preparing an agency-wide training to make sure that all New York City transit employees are properly interacting with customers with disabilities, and that they have an understanding of disability advocates and proper sensitivity. We think that a lot can be gained in terms of the experience of a customer with a disability in that interaction.

We also want to improve communication about elevator and escalator outages. We want to make sure that people have that information as they prepare for their trip. There’s really nothing worse than getting to an elevator when it’s not working.

When will those changes be implemented?
We’re looking to roll out the full-blown disability etiquette and sensitivity training to all New York City transit staff by the end of the year, or very early in 2019. In terms of improving communication and the way outages are reported, I also believe that will happen within a year, in early 2019.

There have been three class-action lawsuits filed in the last couple years over compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. How do you respond to criticism about the subway’s lack of accessibility?

I can’t comment on pending litigation, but I can say that we are taking a firm and aggressive look at improving accessibility in our system. We completely own up to the fact that we have to do better. We hope that we ultimately end up on the same side as those suing us, in the sense that we really do believe the system needs to be more accessible.

In May, the borough presidents of Brooklyn and Queens sent letters to the MTA about not prioritizing the needs of people with disabilities ahead of the looming L train shutdown between Manhattan and Brooklyn. This construction project will last 15 months and force people to use different subway stops, many of which are not wheelchair-accessible. What’s the plan for helping people with disabilities during that time?

Yes, the L train shutdown is going to be challenging, but it’s ultimately a project that needs to be done. Alternate paths have been explored and created, including lots of new bus routes, to help facilitate quick access across the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan.

Most of the significant portion of the L train network in Brooklyn will still remain active. And whichever stations are accessible along that route will still be available to persons with disabilities. As we’re doing some of the L train shutdown work, we’re also making accessibility improvements to some stations.

There are a lot of people in New York who may not have physical disabilities, but who have visual disabilities or intellectual disabilities. Are you keeping them in mind when you’re working on all these improvements?

Absolutely. I look at everything from the perspective of four categories of disability: mobility impairments, visual impairments, those who may be deaf or hard of hearing, and those who may have developmental or intellectual disabilities.

When it comes to an individual who may be hard of hearing or blind or visually impaired, it’s all about communication and wayfinding. For example, if there’s an announcement, we need to visualize that — make it something that’s readable on a screen. We are looking at using technology in the form of apps and getting messages to folks right on their phones.

For those who can’t see, we need to make sure that everything is being read out loud. Are we announcing train stops and bus stops? Are we working on things like tactile pathways? Are we using technology to help people get around our systems? Some of them are long-term, some of them are short-term, but those are on the list in terms of improvements we’re looking to achieve.

I read that one of your main goals is engaging in conversations with the disability community in New York. Can you tell me a little more about how you plan to do so?

Since I’ve been in this role, many organizations, groups and individuals have reached out to me and wanted to talk, and I’ve been doing that. A lot of these groups have never had a chance to meet with somebody who is at the executive level at the MTA, bring their ideas and ask questions about what’s being done.

On a larger scale, this fall, we will have more events open to the public, bringing the community here to hear what they have to say. We also want to make sure that they know what we are doing before we do it. We’re very committed to making sure things are previewed and everybody knows everything before it hits the press.

Ultimately, what will success look like to you in this role?

I think one of the biggest points for me would be a cultural shift where accessibility isn’t done in a way of what’s minimally required. Over my time, if we can raise the prominence of what accessibility means and how important it is, and for the future that it is always considered, I think that would be a huge success.


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MTA News

Three separate homicides across city this weekend under investigation





The weekend was especially busy for homicide detectives across the city as three people were killed since Thursday night in separate murders, police said.

Police were also seeking a possible wounded person from a shooting on a Brooklyn train Saturday night.

The violence began Thursday, Nov. 14 at about 9:05 p.m. when police from the 34th Precinct responded to a 911 call of shots fire in the vicinity of Sherman Avenue and Thayer Street in the Bronx.

Upon arriving at the scene, law enforcement sources said, officers were told about a 20-year-old man who had arrived at New York Presbyterian Hospital, via private means, with gunshot wounds to the legs.

The victim, identified as Luis Dela Cruz, of 36 Arden Avenue, was subsequently pronounced deceased at the hospital. There are no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing.

On Friday, Nov. 15, at about 9:15 p.m., 17-year-old Talasia Cuffie of Vernon Boulevard in Long island City, Queens, was found stabbed in the chest multiple times along 166th Street in South Jamaica. Paramedics rushed her to Jamaica Hospital. where she was pronounced dead.

Sources said Cuffie was stabbed only hours after attending a memorial for her friend, Aamir Griffin, 14, who was shot to death on by a stray bullet 21 days earlier.

Hours later, at about 3:44 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, police in Brooklyn responded to a 911 call of male shot in front of the Lafayette Garden Houses, a NYCHA development. Officers found a 34-year-old man shot multiple times in the chest. EMS rushed him to Brooklyn Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The victim has not yet been identified, and no arrests have been made.

Shooting aboard train

Meanwhile, cops are also investigating a reported shooting on board the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn Saturday evening.

Police say a group became embroiled in a dispute either aboard or on the platform of the Franklin Avenue shuttle as it sat in the station at Prospect Park and Flatbush Avenue Saturday night at about 8:40 p.m. Police were checking hospitals in the borough for possible person shot, but could not confirm that anyone was hit.

A transit worker inside a maintenance room at the station said he heard a large group of teens running from the station, but he didn’t hear the shots. Police were holding the motorman after the shooting for questioning.

The suspect was described as male black, 5’9″ with a dark hoodie.

The shuttle was shut down for the duration of the investigation as evidence collection units collected spent shells and a bullet that may have been lodged in a wall of the train.

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By  Todd Maisel

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MTA News

Advocates: MTA Board Must Get Moving On Congestion Pricing Details




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In less than one year, the state-mandated Traffic Mobility Review Board can issue its nuts-and-bolts recommendations for how congestion pricing is supposed to work, what it will cost, and who will get much-desired exemptions from the toll.

Of course, there’s a few things that need to happen first — primarily Mayor de Blasio and the MTA Board have to actually appoint members to this obscure board, get it an office so it can start the work of setting those tolls and exemptions, and start holding meetings (which are supposed to be public, but might not be!).

On Friday, a coalition of 20 good government and transit advocacy groups including Reinvent Albany, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council, the Citizens Budget Commission and the Straphangers Campaign fired the first warning shot, with a letter reminding the politicians who passed the tolling scheme earlier this year that the hard work of actually designing and then implementing congestion pricing still needs to be done before it supposed to (magically!) begin in January, 2021.

The Traffic Mobility Review Board is supposed to comprise one chairperson and five members: one appointed by Mayor de Blasio and the rest appointed by the MTA Board/Gov. Cuomo, though two members must be from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North service areas.

Asked if the MTA Board had held any discussions about the board and who will be appointed to it, de Blasio’s MTA Board appointee Veronica Vanterpool told Streetsblog it had not. Noting that she felt it could wait until after December’s decision on the 2020 MTA budget, Vanterpool still urged the Board to prioritize the TMRB going forward.

“All eyes are on NYC for this rollout, so we shouldn’t squander time,” Vanterpool said. “January, 2021 is around the corner.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo referred Streetsblog to the MTA, and a spokesperson for de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment on potential board appointees.

Nov. 15 was an auspicious date for the good-governance groups to send the letter, because Nov. 15, 2020 is the date when the TMRB can release its recommendations, per the congestion pricing agreement that the state legislature passed this year (observers have pointed out releasing the recommendations on Nov. 15 allowed legislators to avoid any potential consequences in the 2020 election, which is a week earlier).

If those recommendations are approved by the Triborough Bridges & Tunnel Authority, the MTA can start collecting the congestion toll fee as soon as Jan. 1, 2021, although there’s no requirement that the tolling begin that soon (clearly, there is a huge potential for delay). Although the TMRB has not yet been appointed, the MTA has at least selected a vendor to design and operate the tolling infrastructure once the fee is instituted.

With no TMRB holding meetings, there’s no way to know what congestion pricing will look like or even what the price might be. For now, thanks to state lawmakers carving out exemptions, we know that emergency vehicles, vehicles transporting disabled people and drivers passing through the congestion toll zone on the FDR Drive or West Side Highway will be exempt from the fee. In addition, CBD residents making less than $60,000 per year will get a tax credit equal to what they spend on the tolls each year, and an exception is being worked out for drivers who have to move their cars in and out of the CBD border because of alternate-side parking.

Other than that though, the public is only left to speculate. At Tuesday’s state legislative hearing on the MTA’s historic $51.5-billion 2020-2024 capital plan, MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye promised that before the tolls and exemptions are set, there would be pointless kvetching sessions robust public hearings with the TMRB so that MTA Board members could be properly informed.

In September, the Regional Plan Association issued a series of suggestions as to how the congestion toll could be set. The plan that seemed to do the most good, in terms of raising money and reducing congestion during peak hours, was a fee of $9.18 to enter the CBD during the morning rush and the same fee exit it during the evening peak. That charge would raise $1.06 billion and increase traffic speeds in the Manhattan core by 15.6 percent.

The TMRB’s decisions will have enormous consequences for the success of the congestion pricing program, and for the MTA’s historic capital plan. The MTA is banking on raising $1 billion per year with the congestion fee, which they can then turn into $15 billion in bonds for the agency’s capital spending. In addition to setting the tolls and exemptions, the TMRB is also supposed to review the 2020-2024 capital plan at some point, which makes actually appointing its members somewhat urgent since next year is…let’s see here…2020.



By Dave Colon

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MTA News

Contract talks break down between TWU, MTA





NEW YORK (WABC) — Talks between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the MTA have broken down after both sides have been meeting for the last three days, officials say.

The transit union president claims that the MTA contract demands have “only made the already tense situation worse.”

The union released a statement Thursday evening about MTA Chairman Pat Foye.

“These two days of bargaining have actually set us back,” union president Tony Utano said. “Foye presented us with a new set of demands today that are substantially worse than the insulting package he threw across the table three months ago. Foye not only appears unwilling to negotiate in good faith, he is intentionally spoiling for a confrontation.”

No new talks are scheduled.

The main issues are wages, pension and health benefits, but it all comes amid rising tensions at the MTA and accusations of widespread overtime abuse.

On October 30, members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 rallied outside MTA headquarters, from bus drivers and subway operators to station cleaners and track inspectors. All of them, working without a contract for nearly six months.

MTA officials claimed they have been bargaining in good faith. But unionized workers from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North are also working without contracts.

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