NYC Subways to be 95% Accessible by 2055

Blog: NYC Subways

Thirty-four years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, full access to public transportation remains a major obstacle for many disabled individuals. The situation in New York City is especially dire.

According to The New York Times, “New York has lagged far behind other major American cities in building access points for people with disabilities.”

Case in point: One in 15 New York City residents has difficulty walking, yet only 31% of New York City’s subway stations have elevators or ramps. In a city where the subway is the most practical and inexpensive way to get around, this status quo leaves hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities with no viable means of transportation. Making matters worse is the fact that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) does little to maintain the elevators it does have. A 2024 assessment by The Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University found that existing elevators break down “approximately 25 times a day, with a 4-hour median repair time.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, many stations have gaps between trains and platforms that are too wide for wheelchair users to safely get on or off trains. The gaps also endanger riders with visual impairment.

According to Gothamist, “the push to make the subway system more accessible began in earnest in the 1980s, when Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now known as United Spinal Association) sued the MTA to force a $150 million modernization program for about 50 stations to include more access for riders with disabilities.”

Eventually, that lawsuit resulted in the installation of elevators in 10 subway stations.

Since then, the MTA has been sued by disabled riders and disability rights groups on numerous occasions. For decades, the transportation authority has chosen to pay legal fees and cash settlements instead of doing the work necessary to make subways accessible.

But MTA policy may finally be changing.

After settling two lawsuits in 2022, the MTA has pledged to add elevators and ramps to 95% of the city’s 472 stations by 2055. In June 2022, The New York Times explained that the settlement called for the transportation authority to “make an additional 81 subway and Staten Island Railway stations accessible by 2025… another 85 stations accessible by 2035, 90 more by 2045 and then 90 more by 2055.” Funding for the projects will come from the MTA’s capital budget.

As Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a wheelchair user and disability advocate told “This settlement builds on decades of work by countless disability rights advocates, activists and allies, like the Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group, telling everyone at court hearings and MTA board meetings the simple truth: ‘Elevators Are For Everyone.’ With this settlement, future New Yorkers and visitors—disabled and non-disabled alike—will ride one subway system together.”