Judge derails MTA’s dismissal of disability discrimination case

A subway rider swipes his MetroCard at an Astoria station.  Eagle  photo by Jonathan Sperling.

A subway rider swipes his MetroCard at an Astoria station. Eagle photo by Jonathan Sperling.

By Jonathan Sperling

Queens Daily Eagle

A state Supreme Court judge struck down the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s request to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the agency discriminates against people with disabilities, a nonprofit legal group that brought the suit announced Wednesday.

Justice Shlomo Hagler denied the MTA’s attempt to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit, filed by Disability Rights Advocates on behalf of several city residents with disabilities, including one woman who lives in Long Island City. The suit claims that the MTA and the city violate the New York City Human Rights Law by discriminating against people with disabilities, since less than 25 percent of the 472 subway stations citywide provide any access for people whose disabilities make use of the stairs difficult, dangerous or impossible.

“There has never been a decision from any court that has pre-empted the New York City Human Rights Law in the area of discrimination,” Hagler said.  “There can never be a situation where the state would license any agency to discriminate against any individual.”

The plaintiffs contend that the MTA constructed a new staircase connecting a station mezzanine to the street at the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria without providing stair-free access, causing individuals with disabilities to risk injury when entering stations.

“The MTA’s actions clearly demonstrate that they value amenities like Wi-Fi over serving passengers with disabilities,” said Michelle Caiola, DRA’s managing director of litigation.

“MTA has a longstanding pattern of ignoring their ADA obligations when altering stations, harming not only those with disabilities, but all New Yorkers who benefit from elevator access, including parents with strollers and senior citizens. Its disregard and negligence should no longer be tolerated,” Caiola continued.

Lisa Forsee, a Long Island City resident who uses a walker, walking cart or two canes for mobility, is one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Forsee used to live off of the Roosevelt Island subway station, which is accessible. She moved to LIC after securing affordable housing.

Though her home is located about 5 minutes away from the Vernon Boulevard/Jackson Avenue station on the No. 7 line, Forsee is unable to safely use the station because it is not accessible. The matter was further complicated in January 2019, according to the lawsuit, when the MTA shut down two stairwells at the station “to improve access for customers without disabilities without providing stairfree access,” the suit states.

“We are disappointed with the ruling and are considering our options for appeal.  The MTA is deeply committed to improving accessibility at a faster rate than ever before — including the goal of making 50 more stations accessible in the next capital plan, ensuring that no rider will be more than two stops away from an accessible station at any time,” an MTA spokesperson told the Eagle following the ruling.

“We are also committed to increasing the speed and quality of our fully accessible buses completely envisioning the network for the first time since its creation.  We know we have a long way to go, but we are fully committed to making this system one that can be used by all New Yorkers,” the spokesperson added.

The MTA has made improving accessibility one of the pillars of its Fast Forward Plan by making 50 more stations accessible in the next capital plan and seeking to achieve full system accessibility with the 2030-2034 capital plan.

The agency has also invested nearly $5 billion to make subway stations accessible, including $1.4 billion in the 2015-19 capital program, which includes $479 million to replace 42 existing elevators and 27 escalators.

The majority of the MTA’s 472 subway stations are currently inaccessible for people with disabilities.

Only 19 subway stations in Queens are listed as accessible by the agency, and at least one of the stations — Court Square — is only partially accessible, as there is no way to access the G train platform without using a staircase.