WPCNR STREET LEGAL. From Disability Rights Advocates. May 15, 2019:
A civil rights class action lawsuit was filed today in New York against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), challenging its prevalent, discriminatory practice of renovating New York City subway stations without installing elevators or other stair-free routes in blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This ongoing illegal conduct harms hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices, and also those who have heart or lung conditions, arthritis, or other disabilities that make it difficult, dangerous, or impossible to use stairs. (Editor’s Note: The White Plains Metro North Station has an elevator in place for access to the elevated platforms.)
The lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and a broad coalition of disability groups, including Bronx Independent Living Services; Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled; Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York; Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York; and Harlem Independent Living Center. The law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP is co-counsel with DRA.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed by DRA against the MTA in 2016. That case, in which the U.S. government intervened, challenges the MTA’s failure to install an elevator as part of its seven-month closure and renovation of the Middletown Road station in the Bronx.
In March 2019, Federal Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that those renovations triggered accessibility obligations under the ADA regardless of how much those improvements cost. The ruling cast a spotlight on the MTA’s practice of ignoring accessibility during subway station renovations. This lawsuit focuses on the same principle, but as applied by the MTA system-wide.
“The MTA’s actions clearly demonstrate that they value amenities like Wi-Fi over serving passengers with disabilities,” said Michelle Caiola, DRA’s Managing Director of Litigation, said, “MTA has a longstanding pattern of ignoring their ADA obligations when altering stations, harming not only those with disabilities, but all New Yorkers who benefit from elevator access, including parents with strollers and senior citizens. Its disregard and negligence should no longer be tolerated.”
The New York City subway is the fastest, most convenient way to travel throughout the City. The speed, frequency, convenience, and relatively low cost of a subway ride are unmatched by any of New York City’s alternate modes of transportation, including buses, cabs, and the Access-A-Ride paratransit service. Some of these alternate modes of transportation are also inaccessible to customers with mobility disabilities, highlighting the critical importance of the subway.
Yet, individuals with disabilities are completely excluded from more than 75% of stations that do not offer a stair-free path of travel, making traveling around the City more burdensome and, in some cases, impossible. Half of all neighborhoods served by the subway do not have a single accessible station, and subway accessibility is even more dismal in outer boroughs where a disproportionate number of people with disabilities live.
This dire situation continues because for the past several decades—in contradiction to the ADA’s requirement that accessibility be included along with station renovations—the MTA has completed numerous major renovation projects to improve station usability for nondisabled riders.
The authority has spent millions of dollars and closing stations for months, while repeatedly failing to install the elevators necessary for customers with disabilities to access these renovated stations. The MTA has ignored the needs of its customers with disabilities for years.
“The MTA needs to get their priorities straight,” according to Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. “When they’re already doing the work and spending money to fix a station, they need to remember to finish the job and install elevators.”
“For decades, the MTA has renovated stations at a cost of billions, blatantly evading the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “It’s long past time access is first among the MTA’s priorities, not an afterthought or not thought of at all.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the MTA to install elevators or other means of stair-access in all renovated stations, as well as a declaration that Defendants’ practice of ignoring accessibility during renovations is unlawful. Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages.
About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)
Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation. With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA’s work in New York City has resulted in making half of the City’s yellow taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its voting sites accessible, and a victory at trial in a class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. More information can be found at www.dralegal.org.
About Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled (BCID)
For more than 60 years, the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled’s mission has been to empower persons with disabilities. BCID provides services for the community, helping people advocate for themselves, and leads advocacy for better transportation, housing and in other campaigns for full access and integration into the life of Brooklyn and New York City. Visit www.bcid.org for more information.
About Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY)
The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City. It was founded in 1978 to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community. In 2018, CIDNY reached more than 100,000 New Yorkers. For more information, visit www.cidny.org.