MTA to cover more paratransit e-hail costs as pilot program grows

The MTA is expanding its paratransit subsidy for disabled New Yorkers enrolled in it’s e-hail program, covering up to $60 per trip.

The program, which is meant to allow disabled straphangers to take spontaneous point-to-point trips in Ubers, Lyfts or taxis, has been in its current trial phase since last year. But the increase in subsidy — at least $20 over the current version of the program — is expected to let those Access-A-Ride users enrolled in the program make significantly longer trips.

“If people need to travel, we don’t want to be in the business of telling people how far they can go,” Rachel Cohen, MTA’s acting head of paratransit, told the Daily News.

The increased subsidy is scheduled to go into effect in June.

Cohen said the move was expected to pay for itself. Many Access-a-Ride users are already using the system to take longer trips — either with subsidized taxi trips scheduled the night before, or on the system’s blue-and-white vans.

Moving those longer, pre-scheduled trips to subsidized on-demand e-hail trips is not expected to cost the MTA more money, Cohen said.

Under the current version of the program — which went into effect last August — 1,600 of the city’s 170,000 paratransit users were enrolled to use e-hail under one of two categories.

So-called “high volume” passengers were allowed 40 monthly trips, with a $25 subsidy per trip. “Distance” users, by contrast, were allowed 25 monthly trips with $40 of each trip paid by the MTA.

Riders are expected to pay a $4 co-pay each ride.

At the time, paratransit advocates scoffed at the notion that a $40 Uber ride was long-distance.

“You can’t get across town in New York for $40,” Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, told the Daily News back then.

Rappaport responded favorably to the news of the impending subsidy bump Tuesday.

“Certainly the increase in the subsidy is a good move — It’s a real move in the right direction,” he said.

But Rappaport also said the monthly ride limits — again capped at 25 and 40 rides — were a problem for those who take the service to work, and said the program needed to expand to include more of the city’s 170,000 eligible paratransit passengers.

Jean Ryan, president of Disabled in Action, agreed that the increase was a step in the right direction.

“The current plan does not allow enough subsidy for outer boroughs riders to pay tolls and surge pricing,” she told The News.

Ryan echoed that more disabled New Yorkers needed to be able to take trips on demand, rather than schedule them in advance as required by the MTA’s other Access-A-Ride services.

“Activists have asked that, in the future, all Access-A-Ride riders be offered a chance to take several spontaneous trips per month,” she said. “Because we all have that need.”

Cohen, the MTA’s paratransit boss, said an expansion was in the works, and she hopes that 800 more riders can be enrolled in the e-hail pilot program this fall.

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