U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Grace Meng and transit activists gathered at the Rego Park 63rd Drive station to urge New York state to make accessibility upgrades to subway stations across the city.
The Infrastructure and Jobs Act that was passed last year will send an estimated $11 billion to the MTA, and federal leaders Schumer and Meng are now calling on state representatives to do their part and allocate the money to much-needed transit upgrades.
“Unfortunately, in this diverse city, public transit has fallen short on meeting the needs for a part of our community for far too long and that has to change,” Schumer said. “This station in Rego Park is located on a subway artery that’s essential to moving residents into Manhattan, but it is not accessible — that makes it impossible for all riders to use it. It isn’t public transit unless the whole public can use it.”
Community members and grassroots organizations spoke about how difficult it is to get around the city when a subway station does not have an elevator. Currently, only 114 subway stations out of 472 total stations are following the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
Eman Rimawi, an organizer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and an amputee, said that she has never lived near an accessible train station.
“If only 24% of the system is accessible and Access-A-Ride is horrible that leaves us with no options,” Rimawi said. “I can take an Uber every once in a while, but not everybody has that luxury. It is federal law by ADA compliance that they [upgrade stations]. We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking you to follow federal law.”
Governor Kathy Hochul announced major transit infrastructure investments that would upgrade Penn Station and expand the Second Avenue subway. However, riders are asking leaders to prioritize installing an elevator at every subway station across the city.
“As money from the federal infrastructure bill continues to flow to New York, it is critical for the city and state to make sure that funding is directed towards installing elevators at the Queens subway and LIRR stations that need them,” Meng said. “All of my constituents deserve easy access to our subway and LIRR stops. They should not be out of reach to anybody. It is time to finally ensure equal access to our mass transit system.”
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi also joined the federal representatives and activists, promising to hold his state colleagues and the MTA accountable to make these changes.
“We are going to be all over the MTA to make sure that the money our federal colleagues fought for and brought back doesn’t get wasted, sitting in some account somewhere; instead it goes to elevators here and other places in Queens,” Hevesi said.
MTA Construction and Development President Jamie Torres-Springer said that the MTA hears the voices of the community and agrees that these accessibility improvements needs to be made.
“The MTA’s budget reflects this priority, dedicating $5.2 billion throughout 2020-2024 in capital spending to complete accessibility upgrades at 70 subway stations and another $580 million to replace elevators at another 35 — the largest investment in accessibility in New York City Transit history,” Torres-Springer said. “So does our focus on using innovative methods like design-build and public-private partnerships to deliver projects more efficiently, on-budget and with the highest long-term maintenance standards.”