subways

Cost of MTA Accessibility Study Rising Faster Than Elevators

The MTA was installing an elevator at the Bedford Avenue station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sept. 12, 2019.
The MTA was installing an elevator at the Bedford Avenue station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The cost of an MTA study that aims to put a price tag on making the entire subway system accessible to people with disabilities is going up.

MTA documents reveal that the budget for the feasibility study has jumped 70% — to $16.9 million from $10 million. The report, expected to be completed by the end of the year, is in the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan.

“Look, it’s the MTA and costs often go up,” said Joseph Rappaport, executive director of Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled.

The MTA announced the study in February 2018, hiring engineering consulting firm Stantec to figure out ways to better open up a subway system where only about a quarter of the 472 stations are navigable by riders with physical disabilities.

“We want to have a really good sense of what’s going on and it sometimes adds costs to the study,” Alex Elegudin, senior adviser for accessibility at New York City Transit, told THE CITY.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s proposed $51.5 billion capital spending plan calls for the agency to spend more than $5 billion over five years on making 66 more subway stations accessible, with the goal that riders won’t have to be more than two stops from the nearest station with an elevator or ramp.

‘A Big Lift’

Documents posted to the MTA’s online Capital Program Dashboard pin the increase to the study’s budget on an “updated project estimate.”

“No one said this is supposed to be a cheap job, to install elevators,” said Dustin Jones, a wheelchair user who rides the subway. “But how much did it cost to install creature comforts like WiFi on buses versus a civil right?”

The MTA initially studied accessibility options at a dozen stations that lack elevators or ramps. But in order to look at all 350 inaccessible stations by the end of the year, the budget was bumped up nearly $7 million — and three additional consulting firms were brought in to work on the project.

The upgrades could include more elevators, ramps or other ways to make the system easier to use for people for whom stairs are an obstacle.

“It is a big lift, this study,” Elegudin said.

Advocates in the Dark

The MTA is facing multiple lawsuits from advocates for riders with disabilities, who accuse the transit agency of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by not including elevators in many recent station renovations.

“I don’t know what they are finding.” said Rappaport, whose group is involved in three of the lawsuits. “They’re certainly not telling anyone in a real way what they’re doing, including the groups that are involved in the litigation.”

Elegudin said the efforts to open more stations to riders with limited mobility extend beyond installing elevators. The pace of upgrades and high costs tied to installing elevators in stations compared to other transit systems have earned the MTA criticism from advocates.

“I can’t even believe the study is this expensive,” said Michelle Caiola, managing director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, which is also battling the MTA in several court cases.

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