New York City - Disabled People Used Access-A-Ride To Get To Casinos
New York City - Next stop for the cash-strapped NYC Transit: the casino.
The agency’s budget-busting Access-A-Ride van and car service doesn’t just take disabled passengers to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or local supermarket.
Access-A-Ride regularly takes passengers from their door to the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway to play the ponies or the 5,300 slot machines, the Daily News has learned.
“We’re here all the time,” an Access-A-Ride driver said one recent afternoon after a woman got into the back seat of his sedan for a trip home after some holiday season gambling.
“Every day, we pick up and drop off passengers at the raceway,” another Access-A-Ride driver said before driving a wheelchair user home to Flushing, Queens, in an otherwise empty van.
The casino and raceway is a popular location. It ranks 17th among the 30 most-requested destinations for Access-A-Ride users. The vast majority are medical facilities, but the list also includes the Staten Island Mall and Kennedy Airport.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires mass transit operators provide alternate transportation to those unable to use subways or buses.
The law requires NYC Transit to provide service in the city and a short distance into Westchester and Nassau counties, where other Metropolitan Transportation Authority divisions also run some buses, transit officials said.
Access-A-Ride ridership and costs have been skyrocketing for years, and transit officials are looking to streamline operations to help close an MTA-wide budget gap of nearly $400 million dollars.
Still, NYC Transit can’t simply refuse to provide trips requested by registered users, spokesman Deirdre Parker said.
“The law is clear; we can’t prioritize trips and we do not ask what your purpose is,” Parker said. “It’s just like the bus and subway. We don’t ask where you’re going on the bus or subway. It’s public transportation.”
Approximately 50% of trips are medical-related, Parker said. About 20% are social. The rest fall into four categories: shopping/errands; school; work, or “other.”
Passengers are ferried to Empire City from as far away as Staten Island, southern Brooklyn and eastern Queens, one driver said.
The fare is the base subway-bus fare: $2.25. The actual per-trip cost to NYC Transit, which hires private companies to operate the service, is $53 dollars, Parker said.
A passenger is allowed to be accompanied by a personal care attendant, which could be a spouse, relative or friend, who rides for free. A passenger also can have a guest required to pay $2.25.
In 1999, there were approximately 48,000 registered Access-A-Ride users. By last year, that figure had risen to 123,000, NYC Transit statistics show. Trips have soared during the same time period from 1.6 million to 7.2 million last year.
Officials have attributed the increase in part to the aging of the population.
Access-A-Ride expenses have marched upward over the past decade from nearly $63 million in 1999 to about $450 million this year.
In the last three years, the city’s contribution in the form of direct subsidies and a dedicated tax have dropped to $71 million.
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