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Able-Ride Users See Services Cut, Now Must Find Alternatives

MTA: We Regret Having to Cut But We Have to Fix Our Deficit

 As of last Wednesday, May 27, users of MTA Long Island Bus Able-Ride program will have to call the service’s hotline to determine if they are still eligible for service.

A Federal U.S. District Court judge hearing lawsuit arguments against the MTA ruled last week that the transportation authority was allowed to institute the cuts that had been delayed since April.

“The judge dismissed the case, saying the regulation didn’t apply,” said Robert Shonefeld, an attorney for the plaintiffs. He had argued that an ADA regulation required the MTA to seek public participation, consult with and seek comment from people with disabilities about the proposed cuts when they were in the discussion phase. The judge ruled against the plaintiffs and the MTA was allowed to institute their cuts.

Shonefeld said he filed an emergency appeal for a restraining order that the judge denied. The plaintiffs in the suit, disabled individuals whose services were cut, are now seeking a preliminary injunction in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Shonefeld is unsure how long it will take to hear back on that.

In March, the MTA announced they would limit their service under the Able-Ride program to only those rides required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the new Able-Ride policy, disabled Nassau County residents would use a “feeder” service that would bring them to a fixed-route bus line. The pickup point must be within three-quarters of a mile of said bus line.

Currently Able-Ride serves residents, regardless of distance to a fixed-route bus line and provides door-to-door rides throughout Nassau County, more than what is required by the ADA.

The MTA made the decision to cut Able-Ride, a savings of $1.2 million, they say, because of financial reasons.

 “This was a painful decision but allows us to maintain compliance with ADA regulations and achieve the legislative mandate of a balanced budget,” Thomas Charles, vice president of the MTA’s paratransit division, said at a meeting in April. “With an $800 million deficit, the MTA is struggling.”

Now, riders must call Able-Ride, give them their pickup address and drop off address. If both are within the ADA-required area, then they will be provided a ride to a bus route. Those whose homes or destinations are outside the ADA-required zone, are out of luck.

 “They depend on this service in a car-oriented suburb,” Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs said at a hearing two weeks ago. “With these changes people can’t get to shopping, work and doctors’ visits.”

According to Charles, residents in certain areas of Bayville, Syosset, Westbury, Hicksville, Old Bethpage, Plainview, Glen Cove and Oyster Bay will no longer see services from Able-Ride because they are outside the ADA-required area. The MTA has said that last year, non-ADA trips accounted for just 9 percent of the total Able-Ride trips.

Despite a large showing of disabled residents and their supporters at a hearing at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, lobbying from elected officials and a few lawsuits, the MTA instituted the changes the day after the court decision.

“While the federal judge agreed with our action to discontinue non-ADA 
trips in Nassau County, this is a change we are forced to make due to the severe financial crisis now facing the MTA,” the MTA said in a statement. “For the past decade, the MTA has borne a growing share of the expense of providing vital paratransit service to Nassau residents, despite the fact that it is Nassau County’s responsibility to provide the necessary operating funds to support these services.”

“We understand this will create difficulty for Able-Ride customers who reside or travel outside the ADA service area, and we regret having to take this action,” the statement read.

Just two weeks ago, the MTA and Jacobs said they were looking at alternatives to cutting service. Jacobs said she had submitted the many suggestions gathered from disabled people, elected officials and others. The MTA said they were going to review those suggestions and discuss their options.

Jacobs said she, along with representatives from County Executive Ed Mangano’s office, met last week and decided on a plan of action to save Able-Ride.

They are hoping they can convince the MTA to maintain the program without any cuts, in the meantime Jacobs, and others, would work to raise the $1.2 million that is needed to keep the service running for one year. During that year, if the MTA agrees with the plan, Jacobs said, she would reach out to state and federal officials and the private sector to come up with alternatives to cutting services.

“We want to get the money to keep it running for the year,” Jacobs told Anton Community Newspapers. “Then work throughout the year reaching out to find the alternative.”

Gail Speranza, executive director of Doubleday Babcock Senior Center in Oyster Bay, said people tell her all the time that Able-Ride “gives them their life back.”

“This is about moral obligation and serving the disadvantaged,” Speranza said at the May 19 hearing. “Able-Ride patrons need to have their transportation continued without any interruption…it is a lifeline for the disabled.”