The History of DRA’s Lawsuits Against the NYC Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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The New York City subway system, the lifeblood of the city, is the most convenient way for nearly all New Yorkers to get around town. However, the MTA wholly excludes hundreds of thousands of NYC residents and visitors who have a mobility disability that limits their use of stairs from the 75% of stations that are completely inaccessible. Since arriving in NYC, DRA has been working tirelessly to ensure that someday soon New Yorkers will have access to reliable, stair-free routes through all 472 subway stations. 

Beginning in 2011 with the settlement agreement in United Spinal Association v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, DRA has achieved tremendous success and momentum with a series of lawsuits designed to hold the MTA accountable for its failure to uphold the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In July of 2011, DRA, representing United Spinal Association, reached a settlement with the MTA that resulted in the installation of an elevator at the Dyckman Street subway station. Because just 24% of stations providing any access, this was a big win for all New Yorkers who rely on elevators to access the subway system.

Six years after our success at Dyckman Street, DRA again challenged the MTA for illegally renovating a subway station, this time the Middletown Road station in the Bronx, without including elevators as part of that renovation.

In March 2019, the Court ruled that the Middletown Road station renovations triggered accessibility obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, no matter how much those accessibility improvements cost, casting a spotlight on the MTA’s practice of ignoring their customers with disabilities during subway station renovations.  

In 2017, DRA helped a broad coalition of disability rights groups take on the system as a whole, challenging the overwhelming inaccessibility of the entire subway system as a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law. As Judge Hagler declared recently while denying the MTA’s motion to dismiss our case, “there is no license by the MTA, by any other agency to discriminate against any individual by race, minority, ethnicity or disability.”

Filed concurrently with the case above, this class action lawsuit was brought against the MTA on behalf of six disability rights organizations and three wheelchair users for their failure to maintain the limited number of elevators that do exist in the subway system, leading to frequent and unexpected subway elevator outages.

While the global subways case challenges the current inaccessible state of the entire system, Forsee v. MTA goes after a major cause of that system-wide inaccessibility: the MTA’s illegal practice of undertaking major renovations that benefit only those passengers that use stairs. This case builds on our victory at one station in BILS v. MTA by demonstrating that the MTA’s illegal renovation at the Middletown Road station is a prevalent practice throughout the entire system. 

The MTA’s failure to include accessibility as part of station renovations has led to a system where 62 of NYC’s 122 neighborhoods are not served by a single, accessible subway station. In some areas of the city you must travel for miles before you reach an accessible station.


 

DRA is also taking the MTA to task for neglecting the rights of their passengers with mobility disabilities in the two commuter rail systems they operate: Metro-North and the LIRR.

DRA successfully challenged Metro-North and the MTA for defying the ADA by spending millions of taxpayer dollars renovating the Port Chester Station without providing a stair-free route throughout the station. DRA’s lawsuit resulted in the installation of station elevators, making it fully accessible to riders with mobility disabilities.

This federal lawsuit was filed against the MTA and LIRR for violating the ADA by renovating the Amityville, Copiague, and Lindenhurst stations on the LIRR’s Babylon line without providing stair-free path access.

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