NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most of New York City’s huge, aging subway system is inaccessible to disabled people, and its operator illegally discriminates against them by failing to fix the problems, disability rights advocates said in two lawsuits on Tuesday.
According to complaints filed in federal and state courts in Manhattan, only 112 of the city’s 472 subway stations are wheelchair-accessible, and even those often end up off-limits to disabled people because elevators break down so often.
Nonetheless, the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have resisted demands to upgrade the system, according to the complaints, which do not estimate the cost of doing so.
Such failures leave disabled residents and visitors “barred, limited, and deterred from equal use of, in the words of former MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, ‘the most efficient way to get around town,’” one of the lawsuits said.
The MTA had no immediate comment. Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, called the plaintiff’s claim against the city “misplaced” because the MTA and the New York City Transit Authority oversee subway operations.
New York City’s subway carries about 5.65 million riders on an average weekday, and 1.76 billion a year.
Tuesday’s lawsuits were filed by Disability Rights Advocates on behalf of several nonprofit groups and three individuals.
“If just one elevator is out of service, I’m stuck,” the plaintiff Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a Google software engineer and wheelchair user, said in a statement.
While multiple lawsuits have targeted inaccessible subway stations, the plaintiffs said the state lawsuit is the first to challenge systemwide inaccessibility.
According to court papers, the MTA suffered 9,019 elevator outages in the year ended June 2015, of which 4,117 were unplanned.
Such breakdowns often leave disabled riders marooned on platforms unless people help them to street level, which MTA staff are sometimes “unwilling” to do, one complaint said.
New York’s subway contrasts with transit systems in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. whose stations are 100 percent accessible, and old systems in Boston and Chicago that are more than two-thirds accessible, one complaint said.
The lawsuits accuse the defendants of violating a city human rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
They seek to require the MTA to maintain working elevators and ensure that the subway is “systemically” accessible within a “reasonable” time.
The cases are Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York et al v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-02990; and New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 153765/2017.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown