Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 30 April 2010 00:00
A judge is still hearing arguments from parties in lawsuits against the MTA, regarding cuts to its Able-Ride program.
Several disability advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the MTA after Able-Ride users were informed of cuts to the program, expected to take place on April 12. On April 9, Judge Joanna Seybert issued a two-week restraining order on the cuts and asked the MTA and groups to discuss options for those affected.
When plaintiffs and defendants appeared in court again on Tuesday, April 27, they were informed that Seybert excused herself from the case for reasons other than the case itself and another judge would be hearing the case from there, according to Aaron Leibowitz, executive director of Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities. The ACLD is one of several disability advocacy groups suing.
Leibowitz told Anton Community Newspapers that another group representing Syosset Dialysis Center brought another suit against the MTA, also asking for a restraining order. He said the center believes “there’s a more fundamental problem involving the county. They think there’s some role the county needs to play.”
Representatives from Syosset Dialysis Center were not immediately available for comment.
Liebowitz said the judge hearing the dialysis center’s case will be combining his groups’ case with the center.
MTA Long Island Bus spokesperson Jerry Mikorenda told Anton Community Newspapers that the groups were appearing in court again on Wednesday, April 28.
In March, the MTA announced cuts to the program that serves the disabled. The Able-Ride cuts mean disabled residents would use a “feeder” service that would bring them to a fixed-route bus line. The pickup point must be within three-quarters of a mile from said bus line.
Currently Able-Ride serves residents throughout Nassau County, regardless of distance to a fixed-route bus line.
The Able-Ride cuts will result in a savings of $1.2 million, out of a total Able-Ride budget of $17 million, said Thomas Charles, vice president of the MTA’s paratransit division at an April 22 informational meeting.
Charles led the informational meeting at an MTA bus depot in Garden City where he addressed disabled individuals whose access to Able-Ride may be limited.
“This was a painful decision but allows us to maintain compliance with ADA regulations and achieve the legislative mandate of a balanced budget,” Charles said.
State law requires that the MTA functions with a balanced budget and Americans With Disabilities Act requires the MTA provide service for disabled individuals.
“With an $800 million deficit, the MTA is struggling,” Charles said. The MTA “has turned over every stone, we looked at everything,” he said. “We just don’t see a funding stream that will get us out of this.”
In attendance were disabled residents, disability advocacy groups and their attorneys. The MTA held the meeting to “collaborate on transportation solutions beyond Able-Ride.”
According to Charles, residents in certain areas of Bayville, Syosset, Westbury, Hicksville, Old Bethpage, Plainview, Glen Cove and Oyster Bay will no longer see services from Able-Ride because they are outside the ADA-required area.
Charles said the MTA would evaluate pathways to and from fixed route services to ensure the safe travel for customers going to and from bus stops. He acknowledged that people using the service now would be adversely affected by the cuts.
“The new obstacle is finding a way to get into the service area,” he said.
Charles said the MTA is considering adding car/livery services to the Able-Ride program as an alternative transportation mode.
Seth Stein, an attorney for the disability advocacy groups in the suit, suggested having ambulatory individuals use the car/livery service and save expensive, wheelchair accessible vehicles for others who need it. This would generate significant savings to provide for more non-ADA required Able-Ride services, Stein said.
Charles said substituting car services for more expensive vans is something the MTA has looked at but it’s a “laborious chore.”
Stein also mentioned that Able-Ride is not the sole service provider for disabled people, saying “Currently there are probably several thousand vans that agencies use to voluntarily transport people at their own expense.” These people, he argued, would be otherwise eligible for Able-Ride.
“There’s an enormous subsidy for the Able-Ride program,” Stein said.
Lynette Perez, a Glen Cove resident who is in a wheelchair, said she uses the Able-Ride service every week or so to get to St. Gertrude’s Church in Bayville, where she used to live.
Betty Brooks, also a Glen Cove resident in a wheelchair, said she uses the service to attend community group meetings, and visit the Long Island Center for Independent Living in Levittown.
Neither has an alternative method of transportation at this point.
“I live in the woods in Glen Cove,” Brooks said. “I can’t get out of there on my own.”