Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 18 June 2010 00:00
About three weeks after MTA Long Island Bus instituted cuts to its Able-Ride services, elected officials and private individuals have teamed up to make the most of a bad situation that has left disabled people throughout Nassau County at a loss.
On May 27, after over a month in litigation brought by disability advocates, a judge for the Federal U.S. District Court ruled that the MTA could go ahead with making cuts to its Able-Ride program as planned since March.
The MTA announced they would limit their service, originally scheduled to go into effect April 12, to only those rides required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the new Able-Ride policy, disabled Nassau County residents use a “feeder” service that brings them to a fixed-route bus line. The pickup point must be within three-quarters of a mile of said bus line, as set forth by ADA.
Before the cuts came into effect, Able-Ride served residents, regardless of distance to a fixed-route bus line and provided door-to-door rides throughout Nassau County, more than what is required by the ADA.
The MTA made the decision to cut Able-Ride’s non-ADA required services, a savings of $1.2 million, they say, because of financial reasons. MTA LI Bus has estimated 31,707 rides will be cut annually under the new policy.
A statement issued by MTA LI Bus reads, “We have a tremendous empathy toward the disabled community to whom we provided Able-Ride trips in excess of ADA requirements. Limiting Able-Ride to ADA trips only was one of the most difficult decisions we have had to make. At the same time, there is a huge financial gap in Long Island Bus’s budget that has severely impacted our ability to subsidize this service. This is not just an MTA issue, but rather one that Nassau County’s elected officials must address with us.”
Legislator Judy Jacobs, who has been working to offer solutions to those affected by the cuts, told Anton Community Newspapers that at a meeting with LI Bus on June 2, she asked if the service would be reinstated if she, and others, could come up with the approximately $900,000 that it would cost to fund the non-ADA rides for the remainder of the fiscal year until December.
“The LI Bus seems to have expressed some interest,” Jacobs said. “If we could get the money together, in keeping the service running through December 31, our responsibility would be to identify alternatives, so we have something to move into place.”
During those few months when the costs to run the non-ADA rides would be covered, Jacobs said she would work on finding a permanent solution to the revenue shortfall for the Able-Ride program. She suggested, as submitted to her from her constituents, using a voucher system to help subsidize the cost of running the Able-Ride system, raise revenue for the service by advertising on Able-Ride buses and better management of the system.
“They didn’t sign in blood that they would do this,” Jacobs said, but it was understood at the meeting. They said, “Come up with the money and the MTA will give consideration,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs received word that there is $298,000 of unused monies in the county’s fund for LI bus that could potentially be used to help fund Able-Ride.
Jacobs said she doesn’t have a specific person or group in mind to fund the rest of the approximately $600,000 (or $900,000 if that $298,000 ends up being unavailable) but is hopeful.
“I am an optimist,” Jacobs said. “We’ve reached out to federal, state and of course county officials, there seems to be a concerted effort here to try to make this happen.”
Although Jacobs and others are pursuing routes other than litigation, an attorney for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the MTA, Robert Shonefeld, said he is still waiting to hear back on whether a judge for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals will grant a preliminary injunction that he requested on May 27 after the judge for the Federal U.S. District Court ruled against his clients. He has appealed the District Court judge’s decision to the Court of Appeals.
In the meantime, Jacobs has teamed up with Charles Hammerman, president and CEO of The Disability Opportunity Fund, a community loan fund exclusively for people with disabilities. Hammerman is also the father of an epileptic daughter and he is working hard to provide a service similar to Able-Ride for those who have been cut off from it.
“We are the lender of last resort,” Hammerman said of the DOF. “We do what traditional banks won’t necessarily do.”
Hammerman told Anton Community Newspapers that the DOF provides technical assistance for disabled people in finding services to fit their needs.
“That’s where we really get into the out-of-the-box projects like Able-Ride,” he said. “Where we are presented problems and we go out and solve those problems. We don’t have a financial motivation for this. We’re just trying to be good citizens.”
Hammerman said his company, a 501c(3) tax exempt organization, looks to the private sector for solutions.
He has asked people who need help getting around to contact him and explain their situation. He then assesses their needs, contacts a taxi company, gets a quote and returns to the person with the information. He said even if a disabled person can’t afford the taxi fare, he will ask what they can afford and fill the gap in cost with money his organization receives from donations.
Hammerman said the goal is to help out the most critical cases for a short-term solution while the government sorts the bigger picture items.
“I’m going to let the politicians do the politics right now, let them sort out all those things because I think they’re trying to find the money, let them deal with all that,” Hammerman said. “I’m literally a citizen helping another citizen.”
“I honestly believe it will get sorted out,” Hammerman said.
Jacobs echoed that sentiment saying, “We need people to know that temporarily, while we try to raise the money, this is going to be made available to them. At the same time we are continuing to explore ways to obtain the money needed. It is a crucial period of time right now.”
Patrick Foye, deputy county executive of economic development, was also at the June 2 meeting with LI Bus and said he is hopeful the conversations with the MTA will continue.
“They want to be part of the solution but they have a big, humungous financial hole in their budget,” Foye said. “We’re going to be reaching out to Nassau County cab companies. We’re trying to pursue any angle we have.”