The MTA must install elevators in any subway station that undergoes renovation—regardless of the cost, a federal judge ruled this week.
U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos issued the mandate Wednesday following his decision that the MTA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to install an elevator during a 2014 renovation of the Middletown Road station in the Bronx. The ruling is poised to have a profound impact on how the cash-strapped transit agency overhauls subway stations when only a quarter of the system’s 472 stops are outfitted with lifts.
“Individuals with disabilities have the same rights to use the New York City subway system as every other person,” Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “The Court’s decision marks the end of the MTA treating people with disabilities as second-class citizens.”
Disability Rights Advocates sued the MTA in 2016, charging that the authority neglected to install an elevator during the more than $27 million renovation of the elevated Middletown Road station on the 6 line.
Under Ramos’ ruling, the authority must install elevators in stations undergoing repairs, no matter the costs, unless such a renovation is “technically infeasible,” according to Berman. The MTA has argued that it was infeasible to build an elevator at the Bronx station—and at several stations across the system—though the court has yet to address that claim.
The MTA has long-drawn ire from disability rights groups who say the agency must do more to ensure its stations are accessible to all riders. In some cases, stations the MTA already deems accessible lack elevators and ramps to trains in certain directions. A spokesperson for the authority said that it is dedicated to enhancing accessibility across the system.
“The MTA is steadfastly committed to improving access throughout the subway, with a hard and fast goal of making 50 additional stations accessible over five years,” said MTA spokesperson Max Young. “We’re not wavering from that commitment. ”
Brett Eisenberg with Bronx Independent Living Services, which was named as a plaintiff in the suit, praised the decision as a watershed moment for mobility-restricted New Yorkers.
“This is a major victory for all New Yorkers who need elevators to access the subway, but especially for those in the Bronx where there are even fewer fully accessible stations,” Eisenberg said in a statement. “The MTA cannot continue to place the needs of people with disabilities last when planning improvements to the subway system.”