2006_08_elevator.jpgWe used to think it was pretty sweet that disabled people got themselves a handsome little discount when riding subways and buses. But we always felt that there was probably some downside that we didn't see. In fact, it turns out that only a little over 10% of the subway stations in NYC are actually even accessible to the disabled. And apparently even a $300 million renovation of the Stillwell Avenue Station in Brooklyn wasn't enough to ensure that elevators at the stop would be ready in time for actual traffic. We were pretty excited when the terminal reopened two years ago, with its solar panels and all. But its elevators, that were supposed to be up and running in May, weren't ready until last month and even then experienced frequent service outages. Sadly, since the stop was listed as an all-access type, many disabled people who rode out there found no way out of the station and had to turn around and go find another way out.

The MTA website claims that 59 NYC Transit subway and Staten Island Railway (who takes this?) have accessible or wheelchair accessible stations. But all 4,500 city buses are wheel-chair friendly via hydraulic lifts and that cool "kneeling" feature. Manhattan has 23 of the wheelchair-friendly stations, Harlem has two, Brooklyn has 15 (counting Stillwell Ave), Queens has 11, and the Bronx has five. Shocking that the wealthiest borough should have the most access.

An article in the New York Press earlier this year reported that the MTA had slated $192 million for station upgrades from 2005-2009. This would apparently only succeed in creating about 15 new handicapped-accessible stations. At that time, an MTA spokesperson claimed that part of the problem was that since the NYC Subway infrastructure was laid down long before these considerations were an issue (because there were no disabled people back when the subway was invented) changes are very hard to implement. This is in contrast to cities like DC where the subway was originally built with the handicapped in mind, with their stations being much more accommodating.

Interestingly, the MTA shares that subway station elevators have a shorter life than compatriot lifts elsewhere as they deal with the constant vibration from passing trains and constant attacks by vandals. The average lifespan of an MTA subway elevator is 20 years.

And don't feel too confident that these issues won't affect you because you're not stuck in a wheelchair: one nasty spill at your latest roller derby could land you in a cast and limited subway options.

For more information on subway elevators, riders can go online to www.mta.info or call 800-734-6772. And check out this old letter to the Times asking that the mentally ill be given sweet fare discounts too!

Have Gothamist readers had trouble riding the rails when injured or handicapped?

Update: We just received this press statement released from the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer yesterday. His office reports that the MTA violates City law by not inspecting elevators and escalators often enough and by letting service delays go on and on. Other fun facts we received from the MBP's office:

+ 78% of all elevators in Manhattan subway stations did not receive a mandated inspection each year between 2002-2005 – a violation of New York City Building Code
+ 58% of all escalators in Manhattan did not receive a mandated inspection each year between 2002-2005 – a violation of New York City Building Code
+ In 2005, West 4th Street Station ranked the worst in Manhattan – 3 of its elevators were out for a cumulative time of 9 months
+ Of Manhattan's 22 fully accessible stations, only 4 are found at or above 125th Street

You can read the full press statement below.

From Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office:

THOUSANDS OF DISABLED RIDERS SHAFTED BY MTA’S NEGLIGENCE

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BP STRINGER REPORT FINDS MTA VIOLATES CITY LAW AS SUBWAY ELEVATORS & ESCALATORS UNINSPECTED FOR ENTIRE YEAR, OUT OF SERVICE FOR DAYS

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NEW YORKERS WITH DISABILITIES RALLY FOR ACTION!

(August, 6th 2006) New York, NY – Today, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released the results of his new study that finds the MTA is violating city law as it persistently failed to adequately inspect and repair elevators and escalators in Manhattan’s subway stations. As a result of these failures and other problems identified in the study, including elevators and escalators going un-repaired for days at a time, Stringer said thousands of New Yorkers living with disabilities were being put in troubling and often impossible situations.

At a press conference in front of an MTA elevator at the West 4th Street subway station, Stringer was joined by Michael Harris, Chair of the Disabled Riders Coalition, representatives from Disabled in Action, people with disabilities, and disability advocates.

Among the report’s key findings were:

* 78% of all elevators in Manhattan subway stations did not receive a mandated inspection each year between 2002-2005 – a violation of New York City Building Code
* 58% of all escalators in Manhattan did not receive a mandated inspection each year between 2002-2005 – a violation of New York City Building Code
* In 2005, West 4th Street Station ranked the worst in Manhattan – 3 of its elevators were out for a cumulative time of 9 months
* Of Manhattan’s 22 fully accessible stations, only 4 are found at or above 125th Street

During the press conference Borough President Stringer called on the MTA to take immediate actions to address the problems identified in the report in order to provide safe and reliable service for people with disabilities and all New Yorkers.

“During the transit strike we saw what can happen to our city when the subway is shut down for days at a time,” Stringer said. “When we have broken elevators and escalators all over town, we are essentially shutting down the subway system for thousands of New Yorkers who live with disabilities. The disabled community has fought for decades to have safe access to public transportation. Now that they have it, we have to make sure it’s working. And right now it’s clearly not.”

Michael Harris, Campaign Coordinator for the Disabled Riders Coalition, stated: "With accessible subway stations so few and far between, the MTA's failure to adequately maintain the elevators at those stations that are accessible is an abomination. We firmly believe that it is incumbent upon the Transit Authority to recognize that people with disabilities utilize the NYC subway system and act accordingly to meet our needs. The Borough President's recommendations go a long way toward achieving that goal."

The report also found that when inspections do occur they often take place during peak days and hours of operation: 24% of elevator and escalators inspections were performed during rush hours when ridership is heaviest. And 89% of elevators in ADA compliant stations were inspected Monday-Friday, not on weekends when ridership is lowest.

Finally, Stringer’s study offers the following recommendations:

* Dedicate more resources to the preventive maintenance and repair of subway elevators and escalators.
* Provide assistance to disabled riders via enhanced signage about outages and more customer assistance.
* Create a New York City Transit Advisory Council specifically representing people with disabilities and disability advocates.
* View the MTA’s commitment to make 100 subway stations fully accessible by 2020 as a minimum, not a cap.

The Office of the Manhattan Borough President analyzed four years of outage and repair data for subway stations in Manhattan during June and July of 2006. Data was provided by the MTA.