New York's subway system is one of the most robust in the world. It provides nearly 1.8 billion rides every year, giving the city the highest rate of public transportation usage out of any metropolitan area in the United States.
But for hundreds of thousands of disabled New Yorkers, commuting through a vast majority of the city's subway stations is simply impossible.
A pair of class action lawsuits filed by a collection of individuals and disability rights groups this week argues that the MTA and the city lack of elevators and handicap-accessible subway stations systemwide is in direct violation with federal, state and local laws.
Of the city's 472 subway stations, only 112 of them are wheelchair-accessible. Of those 112, just 100 are currently functioning and provide elevator service in both directions. On top of that, the suit provides that there are an average of 25 elevator outages on the system every day, and when outages occur there are no alternate accommodations for those who require elevator access. All of that and more, the suit argues, violates disability rights laws, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 19773 and the New York City Human Rights Law.
The plaintiffs in the case include a medley of local advocacy groups like the Center for Independence of the Disabled, Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York and the New York StateWide Senior Action Council. The suit says that the "plaintiffs attempted to resolve these issues prior to filing," but the city and the MTA failed to address them.
The groups filed the suit to both the New York State Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It's the first case of its kind to ever argue that New York's subway system systematically discriminates against people with disabilities.
Time will tell how the lawsuits pan out in court, but at the very least they'll draw attention to the subway's deep-rooted accessibility issues.