When Henry Ludmer needed to complete an assessment to determine whether he was eligible for Access-A-Ride’s paratransit service following a 2017 hip replacement several years ago, he went to a walk-in clinic just a few minutes from his West Village apartment. However, the 81-year-old’s scheduled recertification this spring was far from close to home: the MTA directed him to an address 27 miles away — on Staten Island’s South Shore.
Access-A-Ride’s evaluation criteria have long been frustrating for paratransit users. Many users have restricted mobility. Unfortunately, fewer screening locations are available, with none in Manhattan.
A West 13th Street assessment center last performed screenings in January 2022, an MTA spokesperson said. Joseph Rapport, executive director of Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, says there is nowhere for people in Manhattan to go.
According to MTA spokeswoman Kayla Shults, the agency is actively looking for a new Manhattan evaluation center that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the interim, prospective paratransit users in the borough may request to be screened in The Bronx if it is closer to their house or go to one of four other sites in Queens, Brooklyn, or Staten Island. When advised that the wait for an assessment in Brooklyn may take months, Ludmer opted out of Access-A-Ride entirely, foregoing the door-to-door transportation service that costs the same as a subway or bus ride.
Regardless of the distances involved, advocates for New Yorkers with disabilities argue that requiring in-person exams in general is unnecessary and time-consuming. In particular when medical paperwork and remote screenings are recognized by other paratransit authorities in the state and across the country.
Candidates must demonstrate their independence by boarding a train or bus, going up and down subway steps, and using the transit system on their own as part of the assessment process. According to the MTA’s Access-A-Ride dashboard, total monthly ridership for the service was just under 800,000 in February, a decrease from a pandemic-era high of 838,000 last August.
Individuals who are deemed to be unable to utilize buses or subways at all, or whose impairment is unlikely to improve, are allowed what the MTA calls continual eligibility for Access-A-Ride. 50% of all Access-A-Ride users, according to the MTA, are continuously eligible.
Sharon McLennon-Wier, who is blind, told THE CITY that her access to paratransit services in the city expired at the end of March. She is now waiting for an appointment to be reevaluated for Access-A-Ride eligibility. Until then, she is taking cabs or getting rides from others.
A bill presented in January by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan) would allow people with disabilities to avoid in-person recertification assessments by submitting paperwork from a licensed physician demonstrating their need for paratransit service instead.
For disabled people who are unable to drive, paratransit can be a lifeline. People utilize the service to get to work, family gatherings and other events. Disabled people should be able to access their communities. Accessible transportation allows us to do so.
Martinez, Jose. “For Manhattanites with Disabilities, Trek to Prove Access-A-Ride Worthiness Gets Worse.” The City, 19 May 2023, http://www.thecity.nyc/2023/5/19/23729011/access-a-ride-manhattan-center-closed.