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NYC subways to be more accessible under lawsuit settlement

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s iconic subway system will become more accessible to people with disabilities under terms of a settlement announced Wednesday that resolves two lawsuits filed by disability rights advocates.

Currently only 113 of the 472 stations have elevators or ramps usable by people with disabilities, according to the federal lawsuit. Under terms of the settlement, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has committed to making at least 95% of the 118-year-old system’s remaining stations accessible by 2055.

About 80 stations are expected to be finished within the next five years, funded by $5 billion in the MTA’s transit budget that is dedicated to Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. Eighty-five more are scheduled to be completed by 2035.

“This is gigantic,” Stuart Seaborn, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, which argued for the plaintiffs, said Wednesday. “This is taking the largest subway system in the country, the most used subway system in the country, that now has about 25% accessibility, and bringing it above 95% over time.”

Pre-pandemic, weekday ridership on the New York subways averaged more than 5 million daily but fell more than 90%, according to the MTA. Ridership is currently between 60% and 65% of pre-pandemic levels.

Under the agreement, the MTA will dedicate up to about 15% of each five-year transit capital plan to station accessibility. That number could drop to 8% but no lower, if unexpected critical needs arise.

“This affirms the MTA’s absolute commitment to universal accessibility in the subway system,” MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said.

Lieber acknowledged that the accessibility program, like other parts of the MTA’s capital plan, will be partly dependent on revenue generated by congestion pricing, the levying of tolls on motorists entering the heart of Manhattan. The project has been stalled by the environmental approval process, which is taking longer than expected, and isn’t expected to be implemented until the end of 2023 at the earliest, and likely later.