MTA proposes Access-A-Ride improvements amid growing complaints

Access-A-Ride users have complained about extensive wait and ride times, but MTA has pledged major upgrades to help.
Access-A-Ride users have complained about extensive wait and ride times, but MTA has pledged major upgrades to help. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

The MTA is looking to incorporate more ride-hail services, as well as technological upgrades to help improve abysmal Access-A-Ride service.

Following calls from riders and advocates who launched AARRG!, short for the Access-A-Ride Reform Group, last month, the agency pitched the ideas at a board meeting on Wednesday.

“We have heard what our customers are saying … they need greater flexibility, reliability and transparency,” said Steven LoPiano, vice president of paratransit at the MTA. “The bottom line is that the current system is simply not working for our customers.”

Dozens of riders and advocates held a rally outside of agency headquarters and packed into the previous two MTA board meetings to complain about vehicles that can take an hour to show up — if they show up at all — and hourslong trips around the city. The MTA spends more than $400 million a year on paratransit service, which has 148,000 registered participants and completes 20,000 trips each weekday.

LoPiano blamed much of Access-A-Ride’s failure on problems “inherent in the design of the original program.” These problems, LoPiano said, have been exacerbated by an “exponential growth in paratransit demands.”

The agency said that it already has a to-do list of improvements, including the expansion of the use of ride-hail services like Uber and Lyft for riders who can access the vehicles, and an overhaul its scheduling system. They also hope to upgrade their GPS tracking system to monitor trips, as well as develop a unified app that allows riders to book and confirm trips and track their vehicles on a map in real-time.

The intent is to ultimately reduce trip times while improving on-time performance and providing an all-around more flexible service. Depending on the vehicle used, some Access-A-Ride trips are considered “on time” if completed within a 30-minute window, a timeframe the MTA is working to shrink, according to LoPiano.

This fall, the MTA will launch its web-based service app for riders and begin a yearlong pilot to expand the use of ride-hail services to 600,000 trips, or about 10 percent of current service. Those rides can be booked in real-time, instead of the current 24-hour-in-advance requirement. Even though the vast majority of ride-hail vehicles are inaccessible, the MTA has heard positive feedback from an initial 34,000 trips. Adding multiple services also adds more backup options, LoPiano said.

“For example, previously if we knew that a trip was running late we knew that we didn’t have many efficient options to deal with it,” he said. “Now instead of making customers wait for a vehicle we know is delayed, we can rebook the trip using e-hails service.”

Advocates were pleased with the idea, but want to make sure the MTA will carry through with its proposals. LoPiano warned that some ideas will require “some upfront investment,” without giving a specific cost.

“We definitely think it’s a step in the right direction if it’s delivered,” said Jaqi Cohen, campaign coordinator at the NYPRG Straphangers Campaign. “We’re happy that this was prioritized in today’s meeting, but the MTA hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to issues of accessibility. So we’re going to continue to hold them accountable.”