A discussion last night about the subway with MTA Chairman Joe Lhota at the Museum Of The City Of NY was disrupted, and ultimately cancelled, after disability rights activists protested the lack of public transit accessibility.

The event, part of NY Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir's ongoing "Only In New York" series at the museum, also featured MTA Board Member Veronica Vanterpool, and was intended to delve into "what can be done to ensure the future success of the New York subway system." However, just as the event was getting started, members of the group The People's MTA started chanting to drown out the introductions.

With less than one-quarter of the city's 472 subway station handicap accessible, The People's MTA have attended several recent MTA meetings pushing for more elevators and general accessibility around the city. In a press release, the group had written:

Thursday night, wheelchair users, disability rights groups and anti-racist activists will protest the MTA outside the City Museum of New York, where MTA board members Joseph Lhota and Veronica Vanterpool will hold a $30-a-head forum on the “future of the subway” with a fancy craft beer reception afterwards.

"Recently a transit worker died on the job because of rotting wooden infrastructure in the subway," said Teresa Gutierrez of The People's MTA. "Should the MTA Board members be allowed to hold a genteel wine-and-cheese discussion of life and death matters without a people’s response?"

Nir and museum officials were apparently aware that the protest had been planned. Before prematurely ending the event, Nir addressed the crowd, noting, "We thought this would happen, and we were so excited we could share your perspective."

"[Nir] did give them the microphone, but the protesters were not content to be bottled inside of two minutes," said Brian Van Nieuwenhoven, who attended the event. "The protesters spoke loud and forcefully about the issues regarding accessibility on the subway, and it seemed that the crowd was very sympathetic to their position. Not very long after Sarah tried to take back control of the event, the protesting continued and grew louder until Sarah made a surprise announcement that the whole event was canceled and that everyone would be getting refunds."

While Lhota did not speak for the entirety of the event, Vanterpool attempted to do so at one point:

Nir told us she was disappointed that an opportunity for discussion on these issues was squandered: "I am a First Amendment absolutist. I believe in everybody's right to free speech," she told us. "Last night I stepped from the stage and handed the mic over to very passionate protesters with a very worthy cause. I offered them the opportunity to engage in dialogue. They didn't. They chose to shut the event down and I think that was a missed opportunity."

"I believe in their cause," she added. "It's a travesty of justice that only 23% of the New York subway system is accessible. Other big cities do it, we should be able to do it."

Tony Murphy, an activist with The People's MTA, explained, "The everyday frustrations experienced by riders, which are so much worse for people who use wheelchairs, exploded last night because people didn't want to allow the MTA to pull off a public relations stunt." He confirmed that Nir had reached out to the group before the event, but they felt it was just an attempt to get the group not to protest.

"The MTA has had a lot of time to do what it's supposed to do with the subway," he said. "If we responded to the insincere attempts to include us in the conversation, we would have been helping the MTA pull off its public relation stunt. We want action, not talk."

According to a recent report, the MTA's elevator performance has declined rapidly over the past five years. amNY reports that the MTA is facing at least three lawsuits arguing that they're not doing enough to maintain elevator service or make more stations accessible, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The MTA Board recently approved additional funding for ADA accessibility projects around the city, but Murphy remains skeptical. "They announced more money for possibly—the language is very tepid—maybe five stations which would get more elevators out of the hundreds that need them," he said. "It's hard to know what this all means because they announce plans, then they don't follow through on them."

"It kind of looks like they announced plans to get people off their backs, then abandoned them," he added. "They've announced a 'Bus Action Plan,' and announced more money for elevators, but until we see it's actually happening, it's hard to trust what they're really gonna do. They seem to be a lot better at public relation ploys than actually coming through for people."

The subway talk with Lhota and Vanterpool will not be rescheduled. As Nieuwenhoven noted, the MCNY reached out to last night's attendees and offered to transfer their tickets to the next "Only In New York" talk, which is on "Writing The City" (this is the final talk of this season). They were offered a refund otherwise.

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the disruption. Conversations about the efficacy of last night's protest continued on Twitter:

This morning, at the Regional Plan Association's assembly, NYC Transit President Andy Byford promised that full accessibility would be part of a big plan, to be unveiled next week: