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Disability advocates challenge MTA’s station renovations under federal law

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The class action suit follows a federal judge’s landmark March ruling in disability advocates favor

Subway riders take the elevator at the 181st Street and Fort Washington station. 
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Disability advocates filed a class action lawsuit on Wednesday against the MTA, challenging the transit authority’s practice of renovating subway stations without adding elevators as discriminatory under federal law.

The lawsuit, filed by national nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) on behalf of a coalition of local groups, seeks a court order requiring the MTA to install elevators or other accessibility alternatives in all station renovations, along with a declaration that the MTA’s practice of “ignoring accessibility during renovations” is unlawful, according to the suit.

“The MTA has consistently engaged in major renovation projects to improve station usability for nondisabled riders—spending millions of dollars and closing stations for months to conduct the work—while systematically failing to install elevators or other stair-free routes,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in state court and does not seek monetary damages.

Currently, only about a quarter of the subway system’s 472 stops have elevators.

“The MTA needs to get their priorities straight,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York—a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “When they’re already doing the work and spending money to fix a station, they need to remember to finish the job and install elevators.”

The suit comes on the heels of a March ruling in a similar suit, also brought forward by DRA, that charged the MTA with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it overhauled the Middletown Road station in the Bronx without installing elevators.

U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that the station renovations triggered the MTA’s obligation under the ADA to add elevators, unless doing so would be technically impossible. The ruling is poised to have a profound effect on how the MTA renovates subway stations, and Wednesday’s lawsuit takes the action a step further by applying the principal system-wide.

The transit authority is working to make a more accessible subway system for disabled riders. New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s “Fast Forward” plan to modernize the subway pledges to install elevators at 50 stations across the system in the next five years. Transit officials aim to expand those efforts to 130 station over the next decade with the ultimate goal of making as many stations ADA complaint as technically possible by 2034.

MTA Chief External Affairs Officer Maxwell Young admitted that the MTA has “a long way to go” in terms of making the system accessible to all of its customers, but touted the authority’s commitment to carrying out those changes.

“While we can’t comment on the pending litigation, the MTA has made an historic commitment to improving accessibility at a faster rate than ever before,” Young said in a statement. “We know we have a long way to go, but we are fully committed to making this system one that can be used by all New Yorkers.”