MTA’s Access-A-Ride Program Disappoints Disabled Users

Milagros Franco is a frequent Access-A-Ride user. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Milagros Franco is a frequent Access-A-Ride user. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Last year, Milagros Franco was stranded for three hours on a Brooklyn street in the rain because her Access-A-Ride car never came to pick her up.

Had she not decided to ride her electric wheelchair all the way to her house in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, she would have waited even longer. “They left me there, getting wet in the rain, waiting and waiting. Every time I called to ask what was going on, they told me they were on their way. Always giving excuses and telling lies,” said Franco.

That seems to be an everyday occurrence for people with disabilities who call the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Access-A-Ride service, according to an audit performed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer. The evaluation revealed that less than 50 percent of the vehicles provided by the company offering the service arrives on time and that they often do not show up at all.

“In 2015, more than 31,000 customers were stranded,” Stringer said. He noted that the worst part is that the MTA has been negligent in establishing accountability measures for the contractors who drive the vehicles and has failed to monitor the service and to solve the problem, all of which has affected the daily lives of thousands of people who need the program.

Stringer denounced that, in addition to the MTA’s lack of commitment to supervise the work of the 16 firms subcontracted to provide the service, the audit found that reports on the more than 2.5 million rides offered were manipulated to give the impression of efficiency, and that the MTA paid $130,000 for rides that never happened.

Despite the comptroller’s condemnation, the MTA said that they were serving disabled customers who benefit from the program in the best way possible and that the rides that were not provided represent less than 1 percent of the program’s services.

MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said that in 2015, Access-A-Ride improved the mobility of more than 144,000 New York City residents. Every ride is important to us,” said Kevin Ortiz, MTA spokesman. “Even though we carry 6.3 million per year, one missed ride is one too many, which is why we are constantly striving to improve the service, management and cost controls of this important program.”

The MTA employee added that the agency has never stopped offering its services due to lack of funding, and pointed out that it has even been able to lower costs.

Ortiz said that the MTA can proudly say they have not denied a request for a ride due to capacity insufficiencies in more than 13 years. He went on to say that this was achieved while the organization has been embarking on initiatives to significantly cut costs, including using Broker Car Service Contractors (BCSCs) which resulted in the cost of the average ride being reduced 7.5 percent since 2009.

We will continue to enhance our efforts to improve contractor performance, so that our customers receive safe, reliable, timely and cost-effective service,” added the MTA spokesman.

Dissatisfied customers

The MTA response did not satisfy Peter Fontanes, 65, who makes use of the Access-A-Ride three to four times per day because of his work as a real estate agent and contractor.

Peter Fontanes, one of the Access-A-Ride program users who joined Comptroller Scott Stringer at a press conference where he announced the findings of an audit that revealed that the transportation system fails to serve New Yorkers efficiently. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Peter Fontanes, one of the Access-A-Ride program users who joined Comptroller Scott Stringer at a press conference where he announced the findings of an audit that revealed that the transportation system fails to serve New Yorkers efficiently. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“You call, and they often don’t have enough vehicles. The worst part is that, other times, you need to go to somewhere nearby but end up wasting hours because, instead of dropping you off at the place, they ride all over the city saying that they cannot get off their route,” said Fontanes, a Puerto Rican who resides in Long Island City.

“It is obvious that they’re liars. Contractors are only waiting for their checks. Our lives and what we do don’t matter to them,” added the customer, who also said that the situation worsens during the winter, especially after heavy snowfall. “At those times, they don’t even show up, leaving us trapped in our houses, unable to work or move.”

The comptroller’s office said that less than 50 percent of the services are offered on time.

 

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Ortiz said the MTA’s paratransit service is working to further develop Automatic Vehicle Localization Monitoring (AVLM) to improve the precision in tracking the time when users are being picked up.

“Paratransit has and will continue to monitor contractors’ utilization of GPS devices and to assist them to increase contract compliance beyond the current level. The contractors’ stated goal is to achieve 100 percent compliance with providing GPS data for reporting by December 2016,” added Ortiz.

Reena Arora, an attorney with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, insisted that the MTA must take the results of the audit seriously and find effective solutions. “These users depend on this service in their daily lives, and the system continues to exclude people with special needs.”

For his part, Comptroller Stringer said: “In a city that prides itself on its diversity, tolerance and accessibility, the Access-A-Ride program is an affront to all New Yorkers. The MTA needs to respect the civil rights of all riders…”

Facts from the audit and the Access-A-Ride Program

  • Access-A-Ride served 144,000 New Yorkers last year.
  • 6.3 million rides were offered last year.
  • The comptroller’s office found that 31,492 users requested the Access-A-Ride service and it never came.
  • The MTA says that the number of services that the program failed to offer is less than 1 percent.
  • The audit shows that the GVC II, one of the companies hired by the MTA to perform the service, did not show up in 10,100 occasions or picked up users more than 45 minutes late.
  • While the company blamed users for these failures, the MTA found that GVC II was responsible in 40 percent of the cases.
  • The audit revealed that service providers have manipulated data regarding 2.5 million rides to improve their efficiency reports.
  • The comptroller said that the MTA has failed to require buses and Access-A-Ride vehicles to use GPS in order to have a way to monitor their performance.
  • The lack of GPS monitoring has caused the MTA to pay $130,000 for services that were never provided.
  • In 2015, users filed 4,771 complaints for vehicles that never arrived, but the MTA only reimbursed 586 people who had to take taxi cabs in order to arrive to their destination on time.
  • The program cost the MTA $461 million in 2015.

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