Access-A-Ride was designed as a reliable system for the city’s disabled, but it is just . . . HIT & MISS TRANSPORTATION!

Ask any person who uses the Access-A-Ride transportation system what they think about it, and you probably won’t hear anything positive, according to Senator Malcolm Smith.
Smith, who represents areas in Southeast Queens, has written a letter and received a response from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), who manage the Access-A-Ride system, detailing his concerns about the problems many of his constituents, especially seniors, raised about the organization.
“For a service that is so vital to the seniors to be not operating effectively is inexcusable,” Smith said.
Access-A-Ride handles large volumes of requests for rides from the city’s disabled to and from various appointments every day, sometimes as many as 15,900, and more than four million annually. Currently, the program has 90,000 registrants with an estimated 65,000 utilizing the service at least once a month, according to Tom Charles, Vice President of MTA’s Para Transit Division.
Queens and Brooklyn are the two boroughs that receive the most requests placing an extra burden on the Access-A-Ride carriers to provide enough vehicles to manage all the requests.
Currently, riders must give Access-A-Ride 24 hours notice and then a 30-minute window from the scheduled time of their pickup to arrive. Smith claimed that according to 2003 complaint statistics, more than 1,800 out of 4,095 (44 percent) passengers reported that the carrier did not show up for their pickup.
Charles was not aware of the numbers that Smith referred to, but Charles said that statistics for carrier no-shows were less than one percent.
“Any number you give is still not going to sound good when you have a customer stranded, but New York City traffic presents you with obstacles in keeping to a schedule,” Charles said.
Additionally, he said that customers should call the command center if the vehicle does not arrive, and Access-A-Ride will try to take the quickest, alternative measure to get the riders to their desired location.
However, some Access-A-Ride users say that when they follow this protocol, they still do not get results.
A married elderly couple from downtown Flushing, who asked not to be identified, waited four hours at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan for their Access-A-Ride van to pick them up. After repeated calls and promises that their van was on the way, the couple finally gave up waiting and found someone to help with their bags and walk down the stairs to take the subway home.
During the cold, winter months, riders often face a dilemma whether they should position themselves outside and brave the sometimes below zero wind chills like normal protocol for pickups, or whether they should remain indoors until they see the vehicle pull up.
“We do stress during the winter months that instead of being curbside, they can stay within the lobby,” Charles said.
However, some Access-A-Ride customers are wary of this suggestion.
Loretta Gaiso, 77, of Marine Park, has been using the Access-A-Ride service for the past four years and has experienced a similar circumstance. Gaiso, who is in a wheel chair and relies on the help of an aide when using the Access-A-Ride service, asked her aide to tell a driver that they would be right out to the van. However, as her aide went back inside to help Gaiso to the vehicle, the van sped away.
“When you are in a wheel chair or tied up, something like this is a godsend to me, but when it causes all this aggravation it doesn’t pay,” Gaiso said.
In addition to no-shows, delays often cause the biggest complaints among Access-A-Ride travelers.
“It’s hit and miss,” said Mike R., who has been using Access-A-Ride for about a year after suffering a stroke to get from his home in Oakland Gardens to a Self-Help Center in Flushing where he plays cards, medical appointments in Queens and sometimes visiting specialists in Manhattan.
“The first time I used it, I [had an appointment] for a physical and they were two hours late to take me,” Mike said. “Another time I was going to the airport and the guy never showed up, and I had to get a regular cab. That cost me $22.”
“They don’t come on time, and the waiting period to go home is too long,” said Mollie Winter, 85, from Flushing, who sometimes takes Access-A-Ride to Forest Hills. “Sometimes you have to wait an hour and a half to go home.”
No-shows and service delays are not the only areas that have Senator Smith asking for answers. He cites the same 2003 complaint statistics saying that 400 people (11%) reported that the driver was rude or even verbally abusive.
“Some of them are very nice, but some of them have no compassion for you whatsoever,” Gaiso said.
Others disagreed.
“They are very polite and very friendly,” said Fannie Fey, 84, who uses the service frequently to go shopping and for doctors’ appointments.
Charles said his organization constantly monitors the carriers’ performance and meets regularly with them in order to find ways to correct problems or complaints.
“If we have a claim of an abusive driver, we certainly bring that to the attention of the carrier,” he said. “That’s not the type of driver we want out there.”
At the end of this year, Access-A-Ride’s five-year contracts with many of their current carriers will expire, and Charles said their plans with the carriers have not been determined yet. He said he expected to renew and even increase the number of vehicles with some of the carriers, but he did not commit to renewing all of the existing contracts.
However, he did say that they are looking to acquire additional facilities and carriers focusing on areas in the Bronx, Manhattan and the Rockaway section, to help handle the increased requests.
“While there is still progress to be made, I am hopeful that the addition of more vehicles will be beneficial and help to solve some of the problems regarding this service,” Smith said.

The program by the numbers
Access-A-Ride, New York City’s paratransit program provides door-to-door shared ride transportation for people with disabilities unable to fully utilize bus or subway services.
Originally, private transportation companies operated the service under the watch of the Department of Transportation. However, in 1993, MTA New York City Transit assumed responsibility for the program pursuant to an agreement between the transit agency and the city. Currently, NYC Transit has contracts, many of which are ending, with private transportation companies that deliver the service to its users.
Over the past three years, the program’s budget as well as volume of calls for service has increased drastically. In 2003, the program’s budget was $109.2 million with 3.6 million trips, and the numbers keep going up. In 2005, the budget increased to $157.8 with 4.7 million trips, and the 2006 budget is expected to grow to more than $192 million.
Eligibility: Once NYC Transit receives a completed application, they will review it to see if your case requires an interview by a certifier. The certifier may ask questions about your daily travel activities and may have you demonstrate your ability to walk, climb stairs or use a lift to board a bus. They will make a decision about eligibility within 21 days after they finish the application process. If a person is denied eligibility or given conditional eligibility, he has a right to appeal the decision within 60 days of notification. Appeal instructions and an appeal form are included with the notification letter.
Hours of Operation: Service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays.
Fare: The one-way fare for each registered passenger and each guest is the same as the full fare on mass transit. Users must pay the driver when they get into the vehicle. Personal Care Attendants (PCAs) ride free when accompanying AAR customers whose IDs indicate they travel with a PCA.
How to Arrange for a Trip: Call the Paratransit Command Center at 877-337-2017, 718-393-4999, TTY 718-393-4257 or TTY Relay 800-662-1220 between 7 am and 5 pm daily, one to two days in advance of your trip. When the recorded message begins, press “2.” You will be connected to a reservation taker. Please have the following information ready:

  • ID number, as it appears on the AAR identification card.
  • The date of trip(s).
  • The pick-up and destination addresses (include cross streets whenever possible).
  • The telephone number of the destination address.
  • The time wishing to arrive.
  • Whether you will be traveling with a PCA, a guest, or both.
  • Any special instructions such as the need for the vehicle operator to announce his or her presence if you are visually impaired.
  • Please provide the same information for the return trip.
    The reservation taker will tell you while you are on the telephone whether or not your trip request can be accommodated. You may be offered an alternate pick-up or return time.

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