Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) v. Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)
Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (“MTA”) and New York City Transit Authority (“NYCTA”) on June 28, 2016 challenging their failure to install an elevator when they completed a $21.85 million rehabilitation to the Middletown Road subway station in the Bronx. The lawsuit alleges that although the MTA closed the station for seven months between October 2013 and May 2014 to undertake extensive work that included replacing staircases, structural steel framing, ceilings, walls, and track structure, they refused to perform the necessary work to make the station accessible to persons who use wheelchairs or other devices for mobility. DRA represents Bronx Independent Living Services (“BILS”), Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York (“DIA”), and two Bronx residents with mobility disabilities who need elevators to access subway stations.
In March 2019, the Court ruled that the renovations triggered accessibility obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, no matter how much those accessibility improvements cost. The ruling casts a spotlight on the MTA’s practice of not installing elevators when it makes renovations to subway stations.
Michelle Caiola, Managing Director at Disability Rights Advocates, said, “This ruling highlights why the New York City subway system remains overwhelmingly inaccessible to people who cannot use stairs. If MTA had been complying with the ADA over the past twenty-five years by installing elevators when it performs station renovations, we would be closer to full accessibility today. Clearly, MTA must change its practices related to accessibility as soon as possible.”
New York City has one of the worst public transportation systems for people with disabilities in the United States. Almost 26 years after the passage of the ADA, only 19% of New York City subway stations are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. By contrast, 100% of Washington DC stations, 100% of San Francisco Bay Area stations, 74% of Boston stations, 68% of Philadelphia stations, and 67% of Chicago stations are wheelchair-accessible.
Because of these barriers to accessing subway stations, people with disabilities who would like to use the Middletown Road subway station are denied the opportunity to participate in community life on the same terms as those without disabilities.