Federal Court Issues Landmark Civil Rights Ruling Likely to Lead to More Elevators in the New York City Subway

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Inaccessible Entrance for Middletown Road Subway
Inaccessible Entrance for Middletown Road Subway

March 6, 2019 – New York, NY – Federal Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York ruled yesterday that renovations made by the MTA at a subway station in the Bronx triggered accessibility obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act regardless of how much those accessibility improvements cost. The ruling casts a spotlight on MTA’s practice of not installing elevators when it makes renovations to subway stations. The New York City subway system is the least accessible major transportation system in the country.  Less than 25% of stations have elevators, making entire neighborhoods inaccessible to residents and visitors to the city who cannot climb stairs. 

The MTA renovated the Middletown Road subway station in the Bronx during a seven-month period between October 2013 and May 2014.  During the renovations, the MTA completely replaced the staircases, renovated the mezzanine and platform floors, reconstructed platform edges, replaced concrete platforms, and installed new lighting.  However, they never considered building elevators that would make the station accessible to individuals with disabilities.  In dueling motions, Plaintiffs, the U.S. Government, and Defendants presented conflicting legal arguments as to whether MTA was obligated to consider elevator installation or not.  In an important civil rights victory, Plaintiffs’ and the U.S. Government’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was granted and Defendants’ cross-motion was denied. Read the order here.

Disability Rights Advocates represents named Plaintiffs Bronx Independent Living Services, Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, Robert Hardy, and Rodolfo Diaz, as well as a certified class of individuals who would use the station if it had an elevator.  Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in June 2016.  The United States of America intervened on the Plaintiffs’ side in March 2018.  

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.”

“This is a major victory for all New Yorkers who need elevators to access the subway, but especially for those in the Bronx where there are even fewer fully accessible stations,” said Brett Eisenberg, Executive Director of Bronx Independent Living Services.  “The MTA cannot continue to place the needs of people with disabilities last when planning improvements to the subway system.”

“The subway can be the quickest and easiest way to get around the city, but only if you can go up and down stairs,” said Jean Ryan, President of Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York.  “Without accessible stations in a neighborhood, thousands of people are excluded from the basic activities of daily life.”     


About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA):

With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is one of the leading non-profit disability rights legal centers in the nation. DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. As part of that mission, DRA advocates for access to the New York City subway system, bringing lawsuits challenging the lack of accessible subway stations and the failure to maintain the few elevators that do exist in the subway system.  DRA has also brought successful suits in the City of New York challenging the exclusion of people with disabilities from taxis, polling sites, and emergency preparedness plans.  Learn more at dralegal.org.


Rebecca Rodgers: (212) 644-8644, rrodgers@dralegal.org