New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on Tuesday called on the state legislature to approve a new $8 billion Transportation Bond Act, citing the lack of accessibility for senior and disabled citizens in about half of the neighborhoods served by the city's subway system,

According to the report entitled "Service Denied: Accessibility and the New York City Subway System," released by the Comptroller’s Office, 62 out of 122 stations across the system are “ADA Transit Deserts.” Combined, these communities are home to 200,000 mobility-impaired residents, 340,000 seniors and 200,000 children below the age of 5.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer detailed the progress his office has made in aiding MWBE firms.
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer is calling on the state Legislature to OK a new bond act. Chip Barnett

"Too many New Yorkers are left stranded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority," Stringer said. "Decades of underinvestment and neglect have real life consequences. For every inaccessible station, there is a New Yorker who can’t get to work, pick up their children from daycare, or visit their doctors. It’s simple — a person's livelihood should not be dictated by their mobility status, and we must take action immediately to address this crisis. The MTA’s Fast Forward plan is a step in the right direction, but we can and must do more.”

Stringer urged the state Legislature to introduce an $8 billion Transit Bond Act in the next session and bring it to referendum. When a transit bond act was last placed on the ballot in 2005, it was approved by 56% of state voters. That measure generated $3.5 billion, divided between upstate and downstate.

Under a new bond act, Stringer said downstate investments must include significant investment for ADA upgrades.

"With these dollars in place, the MTA can dramatically enhance the reach of the subway system and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers," the report said.

New York State's general obligation bonds are rated Aa1 by Moody's Investors Service and AA-plus by S&P Global Ratings, Fitch Ratings and Kroll Bond Rating Agency. The state has $2.46 billion of GO debt outstanding as of March 31, 2017, with total state-supported debt coming in at $49.62 billion, according to the state comptroller's office.

"Fortunately, new leadership at New York City Transit has advanced an ambitious Fast Forward plan to rescue and modernize local transit and sparked some much-needed optimism," the report said. "Central to the Fast Forward plan is a promise to make 50 new stations ADA accessible in the next five years. These upgrades will be scattered throughout the five boroughs, so that no rider is more than two stops away from an accessible station."

The MTA outlined its goals in a statement.

“New York City Transit has never been more committed to an accessible transit system than it is right now. President [Andy] Byford has hired the system’s first-ever accessibility chief, and his Fast Forward Plan includes a roadmap to dramatically expand subway accessibility, with customers no more than two stations away from an accessible station within five years, and continued elevator installations after that," the MTA said. "We’re also bolstering our completely accessible bus network, and we’re undertaking an overhaul and modernization of Access-a-Ride — all of which will lead to dramatic accessibility improvements.”

Stringer's report says the “ADA Transit Deserts” can severely restrict job opportunities for the mobility impaired. Those living in areas without accessible stations struggle to reach the 2.7 million jobs in areas that are accessible by subway while the 608,258 jobs in neighborhoods without subway accessibility are even more challenging to reach.

Barriers to the labor market already exacerbate the high rates of unemployment and low rates of workforce participation among those living with disabilities, the report said. In New York City, only 23% of the mobility impaired are employed or actively looking for work — compared with 74% of the non-disabled; for those who do participate in the labor force, unemployment rates are at 16% for the mobility-impaired.

"Only 24% of the subway’s 472 stations are accessible, by far the lowest share among the country’s metropolitan rail systems," the report said. "While some of these systems were built after ADA legislation was introduced and were pre-engineered for accessibility, those in Boston and Chicago are nearly as old or older than the New York City subway system, but are far more accessible."

Chip Barnett

Chip Barnett

Chip Barnett is a journalist with more than 40 years of experience. Barnett is currently Senior Market Reporter for The Bond Buyer.