By Scott M. Stringer
The Access-A-Ride program is a daily lifeline for thousands of people with disabilities, seniors and other New Yorkers who cannot get around the city with mass transit. Each year, it provides millions of paratransit rides to workplaces, doctor visits, movie theaters and grocery stores across the five boroughs, but too often those rides are late or do not show up at all. Every New Yorker deserves access to safe, timely and reliable public transportation, but a new audit by my office found that Access-A-Ride customers have been left at the curb and the MTA’s mismanagement is to blame.
We found a veritable laundry list of failure, indifference and neglect by the MTA. Despite spending over $321 million on bus, van and car service providers for transportation services last year, auditors uncovered serious breakdowns in operations that the MTA simply ignored.
The findings speak for themselves:
• In 2015, more than 31,000 people booked Access-A-Ride vehicles that never showed up and failed to provide service, yet the MTA did practically nothing to discipline companies that were responsible. One contractor, GVC II, reported more than 10,000 of these no-shows—and blamed customers for more than 7,500 of them. But a sample review found that the contractor, not the customers, was responsible for 40 percent of these no-shows.
• The MTA assessed just $12,000 in penalties last year for inaccurate reporting of no-shows. That’s .004 percent of the $294 million paid by the MTA to providers of bus and van services for the year.
• Although the MTA requires GPS devices in Access-A-Ride vehicles to transmit its location, it has routinely failed to ensure these devices are actually used. A sample of 150 rides showed that nearly three-quarters of the time, Access-A-Ride bus and car providers misrepresented GPS data, or had none to confirm when customers were actually picked up.
• In a review of 9.3 million recorded pick-ups and drop-offs, providers may have manipulated more than 2.5 million trip records to improve their on-time performance for billing purposes. Once again, the MTA failed to crack down on such abuses.
• Finally, because the MTA essentially relies on the honor system to record trips made by car services, they can’t be assured that rides they were billed for were made. As a result, auditors uncovered that taxpayers may have paid for more than 4,185 car trips—worth $130,000—that never happened.
Our audit made a series of recommendations to improve Access-A-Ride, including asking the MTA to ensure that all vehicles have functioning GPS devices, directing companies to stop using driver-reported pick-up times, except when the GPS fails, and cracking down on providers that misrepresent trip and vehicle data.
Here’s the bottom line: in a city that prides itself on its diversity, accessibility and tolerance, we have an obligation to provide safe and reliable transportation to every New Yorker. When it works, Access-A-Ride provides a vital link to family, to work and to daily activities that allow people with disabilities and seniors to lead full and productive lives.
Unfortunately, this service fails far too often, leaving thousands of New Yorkers in the lurch. It’s time for the MTA to take responsibility for this program once and for all, and make it operate at the high standard that its customers deserve.
Scott M. Stringer
New York City Comptroller