I’m sitting in the back of a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, attending the first of a series of eight public hearings regarding proposed service and fare changes for New York public transportation.
Compared to the last public hearing that I attended in November, which addressed a proposed additional station on the Metro North that services the new Yankee Stadium, and at which I was one of about five non-MTA attendees, this place is packed and lively.
Hundreds of people must have registered to speak, but at the rate things are going, it looks like only a few dozen will be able to, and everyone I have heard so far has been a politician. The crowd is getting annoyed at that, and periodically shouts out for the public’s voice to be heard. Even with this frustration, people are still enthusiastically participatory, cheering and responding to salient points and challenges to the MTA’s plan. So far, the most vocal support seems to be for disabled residents who would be affected by a reduction in Access-A-Ride service.
The MTA (including its earlier manifestations) has a long history of mistreating and short-changing disabled passengers, as I discovered in my archival research. As I have blogged elsewhere, back during the Great Depression the NYCTA changed its policy and refused sight-impaired passengers from riding without the assistance of another rider or transit employee. In response, a movement promoting the usefulness of seeing-eye dogs arose, but was met with resistance from the transit authority, despite the fact that federal transportation law stated that assistance animals was a safe and prohibiting their use on trains was illegal.