MTA Board Passes Reorganization Plan Despite Activists’ Demands
The MTA Board approved a controversial reorganization plan on Wednesday, over the objections of activists who sought stronger commitments to improve transit accessibility.
The 37-page MTA Transformation Plan dedicated one page to accessibility, proposing a new position of accessibility officer under the CEO to “raise the strategic profile” of initiatives for disabled passengers.
That wasn’t enough for some passengers.
“We think the transformation plan is shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, and we feel like we are hitting that iceberg every day when we are trying to go to work or go to school,” said Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a daily subway rider who uses a wheelchair.
Blair-Goldensohn, speaking next to a cardboard cutout of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was among more than 20 accessibility advocates who expressed opposition to the plan. He criticized the governor for spending millions of dollars fighting disability rights groups in court instead of building more elevators and ramps at subway stations.
Some speakers also asked the MTA Board to fill vacancies with disabled people who have direct experience of navigating the city’s transit system. Others demanded better maintenance of existing elevators and improvement in paratransit service.
The transformation plan listed several organizational changes, which include the creation of new central engineer and customer communication functions as well as a few C-level executive positions to lead the transformation in the next two years. It also forecast a cut of more than 2,000 jobs.
However, accessibility was barely touched upon during the board members’ discussion of the plan.
That was “a disappointment,” said Erica Brant, 25, who walks with the help of a mobility assistance dog. “People with disabilities get ignored, and we are treated like our social lives are not important. So we don’t have an official way to get around the city, and I think that needs to change.”
“In the end, this will take commitment not only at the MTA, but from the governor himself. And so far, we just haven’t seen it,” Joseph Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, said in an interview. “You can reorganize all you want, but if you don’t have the commitment from the person who controls the agency, it’s hard to know what would happen.”
MTA’s action met a requirement of the state Legislature that the agency develop and approve a personnel and reorganization plan by July 30.
“What we need is elevators. We don’t need any more plans,” said Mary Kaessinger, a senior citizen from the Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group.