Thursday, July 30, 2009

NY City officials say serving disabled citizens a top priority

From NY1:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that meeting the needs of disabled New Yorkers is a top priority.

The mayor spoke at New York University July 28 during the first-ever Disability Summit.

He touted the advances the city has made in making buildings, parks and transportation more accessible to the disabled, but said he would like to do more.

"I want to make sure we are a leader in providing services to people with disabilities," said Bloomberg. "We really do want to make sure that all New Yorkers enjoy everything that is possible about our great city and our great country. That's why breaking down the remaining barriers really is a top priority."

The summit was organized by the Fund for the City of New York and the Disabilities Network of New York City.

The news release from NY City Comptroller William C. Thompson:

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. (pictured) July 28 called for stronger oversight of the Access-A-Ride program, charging that contractors routinely blame disabled New Yorkers for not showing up when the contractors may in fact be leaving them at the curb.

“Thousands of New Yorkers depend on Access-A-Ride for transportation services 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, the program’s performance has fallen far short of its promise.”

Thompson released his audit at the first annual policy summit co-sponsored by the Disabilities Network of New York City and the Fund for the City of New York. Addressing dozens of disability advocates, Thompson reflected on the progress both accomplished and still needed to improve accessibility for New Yorkers

“We all know that there is still a long way to go,” Thompson said, “that the issues facing New York’s disability community – those with mobility, sensory, cognitive and other types of disabilities – have too often been overlooked, forgotten, and ignored in recent years.”

“Despite all of our efforts,” he said, “New York City’s transportation system remains unreliable and too inaccessible. This is nothing short of an injustice because transportation is the lifeblood of this city.”

Thompson’s audit – available at – exposed that New York City Transit (NYCT) lacked the necessary oversight to rectify significant deficiencies at Access-A-Ride vendors. In Calendar Year 2008, the year examined in the audit,
6.3% of the 5.8 million assigned trips were no shows – a total of 362,587 trips.

Thompson’s audit charged that NYCT had no systematic method to evaluate how accurate its contractors were in classifying who was responsible for a no show – the contractor, the passenger, or neither.

“Instead, the agency’s reviews of completed routes were sporadic, and there was no protocol for deciding how many or which routes to review or what no-show trips on a route to further investigate,” Thompson said. “As a result, the agency was unable to determine the degree to which contractors accurately classified no-shows.”

He added, “This significantly increases the risk that contractors may be understating the number of contractor no-shows to inflate their performance results and to receive incentive payments to which they are not entitled, or avoid paying damages for which they are liable.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s New York City Transit manages Access-A-Ride, the City’s paratransit system. Access-A-Ride provides door-to-door transportation for people with disabilities who are unable to use public bus or subway service. Service is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the five boroughs.

Private carriers under contract with NYCT provide the Access-A-Ride service. During Calendar Year 2008, NYCT contracted with 14 private companies. Contracts with three of these vendors were not renewed by NYCT for Calendar Year 2009.

Access-A-Ride customers can phone up to two days in advance to schedule a trip. Once scheduled, the customer must be at their pickup location and be prepared to wait up to 30 minutes after the scheduled pick up time. Access-A-Ride vehicles arriving during the 30-minute window plus a 15 minute grace period are considered to be on time.

According to an Independent Budget Office report, the cost of operating Access-A-Ride has more than doubled between Calendar Years 2000 and 2005 because of a large increase in ridership. Over this six-year span, annual operating expenses increased from $85.2 million to $189.8 million while annual ridership increased from 2.3 to 4.7 million trips. In Calendar Year 2008, the total cost of the program for the 14 carriers was $242.8 million for approximately 5 million completed trips.

Thompson’s audit demonstrated that for vehicles without GPS, NYCT cannot accurately evaluate the no-shows or the arrival times reported by its vendors. For vehicles in the review that did have GPS, nearly one-quarter either did not have the system turned on or said it was not working, making it difficult to corroborate the records for those vehicles as well.

“Predictably, we found that nearly two-thirds of misclassified no-shows were originally recorded in favor of the contractor and at the expense of the customer,” Thompson said. “Such carelessness on the part of Access-A-Ride vendors can have enormous consequences.

If riders are wrongfully blamed for not showing up, it could possibly lead to an unfair service suspension, leaving eligible registrants unable to travel where they need to go.”

Finally, Thompson noted that NYCT was unable to provide his office with evidence that the City takes meaningful steps to discuss complaint patterns with individual carriers or require corrective action plans from carriers to improve the quality of the service.

“This shows a stunning indifference to the challenges faced by New Yorkers with disabilities, and it is simply unacceptable,” he said.

To address issues exposed in the audit, Thompson made several recommendations, including that NYCT should:

-- Prepare written guidelines to ensure that no-shows are reviewed in a systematic and consistent manner.
-- Enhance its monitoring of no-shows to ensure that each vendor is reviewed continually.
-- Include the total number of no-shows that are reviewed in its no-show reconciliation-review reports so that the error rates for vendor no-show classifications can be determined.
-- More closely monitor analysts’ no-show reviews to ensure that questionable no-show classifications by vendors are adequately identified and reclassified.
-- Ensure that its contract managers more effectively utilize complaint-tracking data by discussing negative trends with vendors and requiring them to take necessary
action to correct the identified problems.
-- Ensure that its contract managers more clearly document their discussions with vendors on performance issues.