New York State Senate and Assembly Unanimously Pass Bill to Protect Paratransit Users During Pandemic

May 28, 2020

Access-a-Ride Reform Group, Coronavirus, Disability Justice, News, Press Release

Access-A-Ride vehicle in New York

On May 27, 2020, the New York State Senate and Assembly unanimously voted to pass a bill locking in protections for paratransit riders and drivers statewide. The proposal would extend paratransit eligibility expirations until August 31, suspend in-person assessments, prohibit shared rides, and require PPE for drivers. Access-A-Ride Campaign Coordinator and Organizer Eman Rimawi is quoted in a press release from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator Leroy Comrie.

Lawmakers Pass Proposal To Protect Paratransit Users From COVID-19

Newly passed legislation from Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and State Senator Leroy Comrie proposes to extend paratransit eligibility expirations until August 31, suspend in-person assessments, prohibit shared rides, and require PPE for drivers.

For Immediate Release
May 27, 2020
Dinowitz Contact: Frederic Klein
kleinf@nyassembly.gov // 703-967-3446 (WFH cell)
Comrie Contact: Andrew Taranto
andrew@leroycomrie.org // 718-765-6359
NYLPI Contact: Justin Wood
jwood@nylpi.org // 917-687-6055

NEW YORK, NY – State Senator Leroy Comrie and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz have passed new legislation to help protect paratransit users amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal, which was developed in consultation with paratransit advocates from across New York State, contains four short-term solutions that will ensure that transit agencies continue practices to allay widespread concerns from paratransit users who are worried about the impact COVID-19 may have on their ability to travel safely. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique challenge to paratransit users, many of whom are senior citizens or have underlying medical conditions which amplify risk from communicable diseases even during non-pandemic times.

The proposal would temporarily extend all active ADA paratransit-eligible customers whose certification would otherwise expire between March 1 and July 31, 2020 until at least August 31, 2020. The relevant paratransit operating agency could also independently extend this eligibility beyond August 31, 2020 at their own discretion.

The proposal would also temporarily suspend in-person eligibility assessments for paratransit applications submitted prior to August 31, 2020. Currently, all paratransit users are required to complete an in-person assessment in addition to the application form to verify that an applicant has a legitimate need for paratransit services.

The proposal would also temporarily suspend shared rides through at least July 31, 2020 and instead dispatch individual paratransit trips for paratransit customers to the maximum possible extent. In the event that a shared ride is unavoidable, the proposal would require that the user is notified in advance and given the opportunity to cancel or reschedule the ride without penalty. The MTA voluntarily suspended shared rides on March 18.

The proposal would also require that all paratransit authorities statewide as well as any associated contractors ensure that all paratransit drivers and other personnel providing paratransit services are provided with virus protection measures consistent with CDC and Department of Health guidelines. These include hand sanitizer, disposable sterile gloves, masks which cover the nose and mouth, and training on preventative measures to protect both customers and drivers from COVID-19.

Paratransit service is guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act for all Americans who are unable to use traditional mass transit options due to a disability. Although many paratransit customers are able to stay at home, there are paratransit customers who are essential employees or otherwise have cause to travel.

The legislation passed both the Assembly (A10303-A) and State Senate (S8119-A) on May 27, 2020.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D – Bronx) said: “At a time where many of us are fortunate enough to stay at home for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone is able to do so – including people with disabilities. Paratransit users are disproportionately vulnerable to the devastating impacts of COVID-19, and it is imperative that there is a statewide standard in place for all paratransit service providers to follow so that their customers are better protected. Thank you to State Senator Comrie, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and all of the advocates statewide who partnered on this important proposal and I urge expedient executive action to implement these recommendations for all New York State.”

State Senator Leroy Comrie (D – Brooklyn) said: “Paratransit users who are not afforded the privilege of staying at home through this pandemic deserve strong and effective standards in place to protect their health. Folks should not be worrying about getting sick while travelling to work or running necessary errands, and no one should lose access to paratransit service during the coronavirus public health emergency for reasons outside of their control. I thank Assembly Member Dinowitz for partnering with me on this bill, and I commend NYLPI and other disability community advocates for their continued leadership on issues that affect paratransit riders.”

Eman Rimawi of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said: “Paratransit users in New York City are happy to hear about legislation ensuring that the improved safety and health measures implemented at the beginning of the pandemic continue. This bill will also give paratransit riders in the rest of the state the security and peace of mind they need to undertake essential travel during this long emergency. We applaud the passage of this bill.”

“Right now, people need to be able to travel when it is essential without fearing for their lives. Looking ahead, a part of any New York City plan to transition back to ‘normal’; also needs a plan to protect people who are at higher risk–people with disabilities and people who are older — when we travel,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of Center for the Independence of the Disabled NY. “We thank lawmakers for passing Senator Comrie and Assemblyman Dinowitz’s important bill. This is one step forward toward ensuring the safety of those who are at higher risk.”

“New York City’s Access-A-Ride riders — and paratransit riders from Buffalo to Brookhaven – deserve a guarantee that they’ll be safe when they have to use this vital transit service,” said Joseph G. Rappaport, executive director of Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled. “We urge the legislature to adopt Sen. Comrie and Assemblyman Dinowitz’s bill swiftly.”

Daniel A. Ross, Senior Staff Attorney, Mobilization for Justice, Inc. said: “Mobilization for Justice applauds Assembly Member Dinowitz and Senator Comrie for their leadership to ensure that paratransit users can travel safely during this pandemic. While we all try to minimize our travel, some trips are unavoidable, and the protections for people applying for paratransit or riding in paratransit vehicles is critical to protect riders and transit staff.”

Jaqi Cohen of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign said: “During this time of great uncertainty, New Yorkers who continue to depend on paratransit as a critical service need assurances that their health and safety will be safeguarded. The Straphangers Campaign commends Senator Comrie and Assemblymember Dinowitz for standing with paratransit riders and advocates statewide in calling for these important measures which will do a great deal to protect both paratransit riders and operators alike.”

Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance said: “Like all New Yorkers, paratransit riders need to be able to make essential trips safely. Unfortunately, the usual rules and restrictions make that impossible during the pandemic. Nimble leadership and creative solutions are more important now than ever. Riders are grateful to Senator Comrie and Assemblyman Dinowitz for recognizing the critical role of paratransit and proposing commonsense fixes to make it work for people when so much else doesn’t.”

“This bill assures that the access to travel needed for paratransit riders in Western New York is maintained, keeping riders and operators safe on paratransit vehicles, and promote measures proven to reduce exposure on public transportation. This is best example of New York Tough – by passing smart legislation in collaboration with the disabled community,” said Todd G Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer, WNY Independent Living, Inc.

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