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MTA’s Able-Ride Cuts Delayed After Disabilities Advocates File Lawsuit

Judge Suspends MTA Service Cuts by Two Weeks

A U.S. District Court judge recently ordered a two-week extension to the MTA’s effective date for limiting services in its Able-Ride program.

After the MTA announced in March that it would be limiting its Able-Ride services to save money, several disability advocacy groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the company.

The MTA describes Able-Ride as a “shared ride, curb-to-curb paratransit bus service for people with disabilities. Able-Ride provides transportation for people who are unable to use fixed route bus service for some or all of their trips.”

On Friday, April 9 Judge Joanna Seybert issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the MTA from making cuts to the Able-Ride service. The MTA was originally scheduled to institute a new policy for its Able-Ride program on Monday, April 12. The ruling means the MTA will not be instituting its new policy until after its next court appearance on April 27.

Able-Ride customers, about 7,000 people, received a letter from MTA Long Island Bus dated March 10, notifying them that effective April 12 the ride service would be limited to “locations within three quarters of a mile on either side of a fixed-route (regular) bus line. This service also includes a three-quarter-mile radius at the end of each fixed-route bus line,” to maintain compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Currently the service is provided to residents throughout Nassau County, regardless of distance to a fixed-route bus line. A description of the service on MTA’s website says distance from a bus stop is not taken into consideration in determining eligibility for the program.

Aaron Liebowitz, executive director of Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities, Inc., said that the people most affected by the changes would be residents of Bayville, Oyster Bay and Syosset areas, because there are no fixed route bus lines, which means those residents are not within the ADA-required areas and therefore would not be eligible for service.

The MTA said those people utilizing the service in those areas “represent approximately 9 percent of Able-Ride’s total completed trips in 2009.”

The Helen Keller Center and United Cerebral Palsy of Nassau County, Inc. along with ACLD, filed the lawsuit on behalf of 14 disabled individuals, and said in a joint statement, “These cuts, if put into effect, will cause considerable hardship to persons with disabilities in Nassau County, negatively impact their right to live independently and will cause many to lose their jobs.”

An MTA spokesperson said the judge requested that the MTA delay the implementation so social groups are aware of the changes and have time to find alternative methods.

Liebowitz said the MTA is expected to reach out to the three groups in the suit to come up with options for riders affected by the Able-Ride changes.

“We only have two weeks to do what the judge is asking us to,” Liebowitz told Anton Community Newspapers. “We hope to gather input to give to the MTA to consider. There’s been so little time but there are ideas floating around.”

The MTA issued the following statement after the judge’s ruling last Friday:

“Today we agreed to the judge’s request to delay the implementation of the Able-Ride service changes for two weeks in order to more fully ensure that social service groups within the affected areas of Nassau County are fully apprized of the pending changes and have an opportunity to explore alternative modes of transportation. With respect to the lawsuit itself, we are satisfied that our actions are fully in conformance with legal obligations.”

The MTA said that for years it has been providing Able-Ride service to areas without fixed-route services, beyond the requirements set forth by the ADA. It’s due to the “budget crunch” that the services now have to be scaled back.

In addition to the three-quarters-of-a-mile limitations, the MTA has said they are considering replacing the Able-Ride door-to-door access with rides to and from bus lines only. Currently the service brings riders to and from locations in Nassau County for personal, medical, educational and recreational reasons.    

The MTA said the total of all proposed Able-Ride service-related changes is estimated to save $1.2 million this year.

An MTA spokesperson could not say when that service-related change proposal would take place.