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Photo courtesy of Comrie's office
State Senator Leroy Comrie presents new legislation that would extend a popular Access-A-Ride pilot program.

State Senator Leroy Comrie unveiled unprecedented legislation Monday that would require the MTA to expand its highly successful, on-demand Access-A-Ride pilot program.

Launched in 2017, the program allows 1,200 New Yorkers with disabilities to get rides when and where they need them, rather than booking every trip 24 hours in advance. Riders who have used the program consistently praise it as a significant improvement over the notoriously inefficient and unreliable traditional AAR service.

“Access-A-Ride is equally important to rail and bus service, but its users are routinely excluded from conversations on how to improve public transportation,” Comrie said. “We are calling on the MTA to listen to their Access-A-Ride customers who overwhelmingly agree that the on-demand pilot program has improved their mobility and quality of life.”

The bill, known as S7371, would require the MTA to evaluate the true costs of the on-demand program by extending it for at least a year and expanding the service to an additional 1,200 users who are representative of New York City paratransit riders. It would also extend AAR riders a current law that bars the MTA from charging subway and bus riders more for longer rides without mayoral approval.

Dozens of lawmakers signed off on letters sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Patrick Foye urging the agency to “maintain and expand the innovative On-Demand Access-A-Ride Pilot Program, without cumbersome and restrictive rules that will effectively curtail the program for current and future users alike.” The legislators also underscored that an on-demand ride costs less than half of AAR’s traditional service.

The legislators’ letter and bill introduction follow major changes to the on-demand program announced by the MTA in November that would cap the number of on-demand rides users can take to a mere 16 per month and place a $15 limit on the cost of each ride. Advocates estimate that a $15 cap will only allow riders to travel two to four miles at most, not nearly far enough to commute to jobs, schools and appointments for most New Yorkers.

“In a city where our mass transit system is too often inaccessible to people with disabilities, it is essential that we ensure our paratransit service is enabling all New Yorkers to move around our city with ease and efficiency,” Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who will carry the measure in the Assembly, said. “Unfortunately, the plan to expand the excellent on-demand pilot program leaves many users behind. Fare caps and ride limits make it nearly impossible for people to use Access-A-Ride to get where they need to go and that needs to change as soon as possible.”

Colin Wright, a senior associate at TransitCenter, an organization that advocates for mass transit accessibility, said, “Every New Yorker has the right to freely access our city but new travel limits on the on-demand e-hail pilot program will effectively kill the life-changing program.”

Wright added that rather than cutting service, the MTA should ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from the freedom provided by the on-demand program.

“I am proud to carry S7371 in the Senate, which would not only extend the on-demand pilot program for an additional year, but also increase the number of participating Access-A-Ride users. I thank [Assemblyman] Dinowitz for his partnership on this legislation, as well as the advocates in the disability community who have championed better transit options for people with disabilities.”

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