NYC Will Make Its Subway System 95% Accessible by 2055

The MTA made the pledge following two class-action lawsuits.

New Yorkers will have to wait 33 years for almost every subway station to become accessible.

Yesterday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the MTA and accessible advocates have reached an agreement, and the MTA is vowing to make subways 95% accessible to people with disabilities. Right now, only 126 out of 472 stations are considered accessible (27%), and are equipped with elevators or ramps.

The news come as part of a settlement agreement from two class-action lawsuits, both of which addressed issues related to NYC subway stations' accessibility. By 2025, 81 additional subway stations and Staten Island Railway stations will be made accessible, while another 85 stations are pledged to become accessible by 2035. From then, it will take another 10 years for 90 more stations to be improved, with the next 90 stations fixed to accommodate people with disabilities by 2055. The agreement is still pending court approval.

"No New Yorker should have to worry about whether or not they can safely access public transportation," Governor Hochul said in an official statement. "This agreement between the MTA and accessibility advocates is a critical step towards further expanding accessibility in our subways and serving the needs of New Yorkers with disabilities. My administration will continue to ensure that New York State is accessible for all."

Disability activists and groups are concerned about the slow timeline, The New York Times reports. On the other hand, transit officials are quoting costs as well as engineering concerns to excuse the lengthy plan. 

Even when the project is completed, not all NYC subway stations will be considered accessible. According to The New York Times, the remaining 5% of stations are not in the conditions to be improved accessibility-wise, as they present complicated engineering issues that would be unable to support ramps and elevators.

One could think this is mainly due to New York City's transit system being very old. Cities with newer systems like San Francisco and Washington are fully accessible. But old systems like those in Boston and Philadelphia are also far more accessible than the Big Apple (which is the world's largest transit system by station count), with around two-thirds of those cities' stations in compliance with the standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The act, which was passed in 1990, is a civil rights law established to prevent discrimination based on disability. It states that any public facility that was built after 1993 must be accessible. For the City of New York, given its much older subway system, the federal government and the transit agency came to an agreement, which required the city to implement accessible access to 100 “key stations” by 2020, a goal that was achieved.

It is important to note that, while the changes will affect both inaccessible and partially-accessible subway stations, they will not improve the conditions of existing elevators, which are crucial for many categories of passengers, from people with disabilities to parents with strollers, and people traveling with big pieces of luggage.

"Disabled In Action has fought to eliminate barriers to full equality for people with disabilities for more than 50 years and is proud to do so here on behalf of all New Yorkers," Jean Ryan of Disabled In Action New York said in a statement. "All our members need elevators in the subways, and we need elevators in all stations. Elevators are for everyone."

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.