New York City Transit President Andy Byford made a rare move for a public official on Monday when he offered an apology to Metropolitan Transportation Authority customers. During an MTA board meeting, disabled New Yorkers and advocates raised concerns about the organization’s unannounced changes to an e-hail program for Access-A-Ride users that led to a confusing string of media reports about the program’s future.
In a St. Patrick’s Day press release, the MTA clarified its plans to extend the e-hail pilot program – which allows users to hail accessible yellow or green taxis on demand – through the end of 2019. The MTA also detailed plans for an “enhanced broker service” that will allow Access-A-Ride users to hail more taxis and for-hire vehicles, as opposed to dedicated AAR-branded vans and sedans.
But with the e-hail pilot program still set to end at the end of the year, riders voiced concerns on Monday about how any new programs will work and whether they’ll still have on-demand options. Mostly, though, they complained about the MTA’s lack of communication around these changes. “When programs change, we want to see improvement in the quality of service delivered,” said Monica Bartley, community outreach specialist at Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY. “E-hail is being extended to the end of the year, and we hear it’s being transformed, but into what? We need more details about the direction into which this is going. We also need to have an input into the development of these programs.” Others offered examples of instances where a lack of accessible rides on short notice or access to other means of public transit led them to miss work and other obligations. “We deserve the right to be as spontaneous as life is,” said Stephanie Wallace. “Because we’re just like you, we’re just sitting down. That’s all.”
In response, Byford offered what seemed to be a sincere mea culpa. “I’m going to be really candid, I found that hard to listen to, because you had some legitimate complaints,” he said. “Being blunt, we let you down.”
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