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Article on Longreads.com about the paratransit experience in NYC
On NYC’s Paratransit, Fighting for Safety, Respect, and Human Dignity
An incident on lawyer Britney Wilson’s ride home from work exposes her vulnerabilities as a Black disabled woman.
He pulled up on the wrong side of the street fifteen minutes late for my pick-up time. I was sitting outside, in front of the New York City office building where I work, in a chair that the security guards at my job have set aside for me. They bring it outside when I come downstairs in the evening and take it back inside whenever I get picked up, so I don’t have to stand while I wait anymore. I was on the left side of the street; he pulled up on the right. I stood when I saw him, and taking a few steps closer to the tide of people rippling endlessly down the sidewalk that early evening, I waved one of my crutches in the air trying to get his attention. He looked up and down the street. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen me.
“Excuse me,” I said, taking a few more quick half steps forward, trying to catch the attention of a passer-by, “do you see that Access-a-Ride across the street?”
“The what?” the passer-by asked.
“The Access-a-Ride,” I repeated. “That little blue and white bus across the street.” I pointed my crutch in its direction, and his gaze followed its path.
“Oh,” he said. But just as I was about to request the man’s assistance, I saw that the driver had finally spotted me. He put his hand up as if to tell me to stay put.
“Nevermind. I think he sees me,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”
My Access-a-Ride driver, a skinny older Black man with glasses and a graying beard, exited the vehicle and crossed the street toward me. I bravely parted the latest oncoming wave of pedestrians and made my way to the curb to meet him.
“Come on,” the driver said when he reached me, urging me to step right out into traffic on Broadway and cross with him, but I was reluctant.
“I’d rather wait for the light to change,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stop traffic for you,” he said, moving toward the middle of the street, his right hand extended making a “stop” motion toward the oncoming cars. I tried to pick up my pace while also being careful not to place my crutch tips on anything slippery, or get too close to other pedestrians rushing to the other side of the street.
“Take your time. I’ll make them wait,” he attempted to reassure me. I wasn’t reassured.
Access-a-Ride is New York City’s paratransit service. It provides transportation within the five boroughs of New York City to hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled New Yorkers unable to use a transit system in which less than twenty percent of subway stations are accessible. It is a “shared ride, door-to-door” service in which New York City Transit contracts with private carrier companies, who use “Access-a-Ride-branded” vehicles, including cars, mini-vans, and small buses to transport passengers. The fare is the same as all other public transportation in New York City.
A native New Yorker born with Cerebral Palsy, I began using Access-a-Ride sixteen years ago at 11 years old.
Passengers usually have different drivers and carriers for each trip. So, even passengers like me — people who use the service twice a day to travel to and from work — will usually have a different driver in the morning and evening, and a completely different set of drivers the next day, and likely for the rest of the week. I had never seen this driver before.
A native New Yorker, born with Cerebral Palsy, I began using Access-a-Ride 16 years ago at 11 years old, around the age that I suspect many New York City kids begin riding public transportation by themselves. Over the first eight of those 16 years, I protested the service’s inefficiency and unreliability in true Millennial fashion: I complained to family, friends, and social media followers, wrote blog posts, and started Change.org petitions, generally only filing formal complaints when something especially ridiculous happened.
But that was only phase one. My ultimate plan was to go to law school and gain the knowledge and skills necessary to fight, on behalf of myself and others, all the rampant “isms” I’d faced as a disabled Black girl born and raised in Mike Tyson’s hometown.
Two years ago, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, I returned home and increased my advocacy for passengers using the service. Since then, I’ve been documenting and filing formal complaints about routes and other general incidents of bad service.
For more: https://longreads.com/2017/09/01/on-...human-dignity/