The MTA was blasted for planned cuts to a popular Access-A-Ride program — even as the agency asks taxpayers to spend more to ensure all paratransit service can improve amid rising costs. Despite the pleas of advocates, the MTA announced plans in Nov. to severely limit the popular pilot program, which allowed 1,200 people with limited mobility unlimited cab trips through Access-A-Ride for $2.75.

MTA officials told City Council that changes to the on-demand pilot are necessary partially because it’s “no longer sustainable” for the MTA to shoulder most of the operating costs for the entire Access-A-Ride paratransit service. The total cost for Access-A-Ride was estimated to reach $614 million in 2019, a massive increase from when the MTA took over the federally-mandated service in the early 1990s, when the budget was just $11 million. The number of paratransit users also increased six-fold, from 25,000 to 160,000 senior citizens and people with disabilities.

In Nov., the MTA asked Mayor de Blasio’s administration to foot another $159 million for the beleaguered Access-A-Ride program as costs skyrocket, though the city already pays one-third of the total budget.

“The reality is that the city’s contribution to paratransit’s net operating expense has not kept pace with the growth in demand and accelerated investments in service,” said Craig Cipriano, the MTA’s acting bus chief.

The funding request came as the MTA announced changes to the on-demand pilot program, capping the number of taxi-type rides for customers at 16 per month, and increasing the cost of trips for users. Instead of paying $2.75, customers would ride for free until the trip costs $15, after which they must pay the reminder of the trip’s cost. The changes would expand the number of participants to 2,400.

The MTA wants to amend an agreement inked in 1993, when the authority took over paratransit service, so that the city pays for half the operating expenses of Access-A-Ride. The de Blasio administration dismissed the suggestion. The city put up $149 million out of the $536 million budget for Access-A-Ride last year. The MTA’s 2020 budget, which was recently approved by the agency’s board, assumes the city will kick in half of the cost for the program.

Source:New York Daily News

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