Rising costs, increasing demand and outdated practices are putting the city’s Access-A-Ride service at risk, say two new reports which recommend changes to improve and lower taxpayer costs for services that the MTA said cost $465 million in 2015.
The MTA could lower the cost per ride and improve service by allowing users to use cabs and ride services such as Uber and Lyft and by overhauling its contractor process, said the Citizens Budget Commission in its report, “Access-A-Ride: Ways to Do the Right Thing More Efficiently.”
The report noted that paratransit trips have grown at nearly five times the rate of subway ridership since 2002 and suggested that charging higher fares would “discourage excessive use.” Greater use of the fixed-route system “when appropriate” would also reduce demand, said the CBC.
“The MTA already provides free MetroCards to some AAR customers, though this program has not been well targeted or well designed to limit abuse,” said the CBC, which recommended that it be redesigned to limit fraud.
Using more “feeder” services (fixed-route stops as opposed to door-to-door service) and demanding the state pay more for Medicaid patients using paratransit services for appointments would also reduce costs, according to the report.
A report by the NYU Wagner Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management also recommended ride-sharing apps and “right-size vehicle dispatch,” and urged a more sophisticated deployment of technology “to improve the hailing and ridership experience” for the city’s 144,000 subscribers.
Nahid Sorooshyari, senior staff attorney for MFY Legal Services, welcomed the opportunity for Access-A-Ride users to make reservations using mobile apps and other tools.
Many disabled New Yorkers have dubbed Access-A-Ride “Stress-A-Ride” as a result of its unreliability, late pick-ups and “long shared trips with inefficient routes,” Sorooshyari said. Earlier this month, MFY settled a class action lawsuit with New York City Transit requiring the agency to provide specific information as to why an applicant is denied services and to continue providing transportation during the appeals process.
Yet Susan Dooha, executive director for Center for Independence of the Disabled, criticized the Rudin report in a statement, saying that it failed to address the many complaints users have about the system’s eligibility process “and the unfairness of the complaint process when things go wrong. . . . It shows how hard it is to get policy right if you don’t consult the people affected by that policy.”
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said that the average paratransit trip cost has been reduced to $57.18 in 2015 from $61.81 in 2009 and the initiation of “feeder trips” in 2011 saved about $30 million through the end of last year, while the introduction of “broker trips” (car services) in 2011 has saved an estimated $161 million.