Imagine that it’s 1987, 33 years after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that enforced legal segregation of public accommodations must end with “all deliberate speed,” that the last white-only public school finally closed. Ridiculous, right?
Well, that’s the number of years the MTA is now promising it’ll take to end legal segregation of the subway for people with disabilities by making stations accessible with elevators or ramps for wheelchairs.
We hope we’ll still be alive then. We’re pretty sure there will still be a New York City and a subway. But who knows, maybe by 2055 the subways will have been destroyed by global warming’s rising sea levels, or maybe biotechnology will have discovered remedies for all disabilities or maybe we’ll all have George Jetson flying cars and won’t need mass transit.
The science-fiction date comes from a settlement of a pair of well-meaning lawsuits by advocates for people with disabilities for whom we have nothing but admiration. They brought actions in state and federal court years ago to try to make the MTA do better than the 100 or so accessible stations out of 472. To its shame, the agency then hired fancy private lawyers getting top dollar from the taxpayers to fight against the public interest. Now, the lawyers have cut a deal.
A court-approved commitment to 95% accessibility (and hopefully 100%) is most welcome, but we really doubt if the late Edith Prentiss, a fiery, no-guff advocate — a documentary on her was called “Hell on Wheels” — would approve of this train-creeping-along-in-the-tunnel schedule. The original subway was built basically by hand in 1900 in just four years.
Still to be settled is another lawsuit against the MTA for failure to keep its existing elevators working. What’s the point of having them if they are chronically on the fritz? And what does this do for the horrible Access-A-Ride program, which spends $600 million a year on atrocious service? Thirty-three years of that is $20 billion, enough to put elevators everywhere.