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NYC subway’s lack of accessibility at the center of two class action lawsuits

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Less than a quarter of subway stations are currently accessible to those with disabilities

A pair of lawsuits filed Tuesday allege that the MTA discriminates against people with disabilities, thanks to a widespread lack of the elevators and electric lifts that would make it possible for New Yorkers with mobility issues to, you know, actually access the subway, the New York Times reports.

The plaintiffs, a group of disability organizers and disabled residents, say that the New York City subway is one of the least accessible public transit systems in the country. Only 24 percent of its stations pass muster—the lowest accessibility rate among the country’s 10 largest transit systems, according to the Times.

What that means is that more than three quarters of the city’s 472 subway stations don’t have “elevators, lifts or other methods that make them accessible for people who use wheelchairs, mobility devices or are otherwise unable to use stairs.” And while 112 stations are designated as wheelchair accessible, 100 of them “currently offer working elevator service for passengers traveling in different directions,” the suit claims.

It makes sense that the shiny(ish) new(ish) transit systems in Washington, DC and San Francisco would be completely accessible, because, well, they’re newer than New York’s century-old system. But the suit argues that similarly old systems are ahead of NYC: 74 percent of Boston’s subway stations are accessible, as are 68 percent of the stations in Philadelphia. (Part of the problem may be that a lot of the MTA’s previous accessibility efforts have focused on buses, which a former MTA head called “a horrendously bad decision” last year.)

The New York Times breaks it down: the state suit focuses on the lack of elevators in the system, arguing that by not having them, the MTA is violating the city’s human rights law, which aims to “eliminate and prevent discrimination from playing any role in actions relating to employment, public accommodations and housing and other real estate.” The federal suit, meanwhile, takes on the status of the existing accommodations, arguing that the MTA’s “failure to maintain operable elevators violates the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the Times explains.

Michelle A. Caiola, litigation director for Disability Rights Advocates, which is representing the plaintiffs, told the Times that the suits come after what the paper characterizes as “many futile attempts to achieve a resolution with the transit agency.” The lawsuits aren’t asking for financial compensation, but “instead seek better procedures to deal with elevator maintenance and a long-term plan to increase accessibility,” according to Caiola.

An MTA spokesperson, meanwhile, told the Times that the agency is “committed to serving the needs of disabled customers,” and would be spending upwards of $1 billion to bring 25 more stations into compliance with the federal disabilities act. The agency also plans to put $334 million toward replacing existing elevators and escalators. It would, they say, cost another $10 billion to bring the rest of the system in line with federal law.