2006-07-19 / Editorials

Op-ed

Governor Wrong To Veto Access-A-Ride Bill
BY ASSEMBLYMEMBER MARK WEPRIN

Governor George Pataki recently vetoed a bill I introduced that would allow Access-A-Ride users to reach Nassau County with a one-seat ride. Access-ARide is a transportation service, also called paratransit, that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) provides to individuals who are unable to use public transportation due to disability. AccessA-Ride offers shared ride, door-to-door service in white vans with blue lettering; you have probably seen the vans around your neighborhood. Because Eastern Queens has no subway system, limited bus service and a high concentration of senior citizens, many Queens residents use Access-A-Ride.

The problem is that Access-A-Ride does not transport passengers into Nassau County. When Queens residents need to reach a destination in Nassau County via Access-A-Ride, they must ride to the county line, cross the street, and board Able-Ride, a comparable service that Nassau County provides. Both services require advance appointments, and the coordination can be quite challenging.

Imagine that you live in Queens and have a doctor's appointment in Nassau County, just a mile or two from the county border. You call Access-A-Ride and arrange for a trip from your home to Lakeville Road. You also call Able-Ride to secure your ride from Lakeville Road to the doctor's office. You arrive at Lakeville Road, at which point you have to traverse a major thoroughfare and then wait again for Able-Ride to pick you up. What are the chances that neither van will be late and that you will arrive at the doctor's office on time? Often, the process is far from smooth. For disabled people to have to wait for Access-A-Ride, negotiate a busy street and wait for the Able-Ride vehicle just to make a short trip is both unfair and unsafe.

For many residents of Queens, the nearest physicians' offices and hospitals are in Western Nassau County: Long Island Jewish Hospital has facilities just over the county line, and both North Shore University Hospital and St. Francis Hospital are less than five miles from Queens County. Streets like Northern Boulevard in Great Neck and Marcus Avenue in Lake Success are lined with office complexes, each of which houses dozens of medical suites. Users of AccessA-Ride are often people with serious medical needs. It makes no sense to deny them access to medical facilities via public transportation. Currently, those who rely on Access-A-Ride often have no choice but to use expensive car services to keep medical appointments. The difficulty in crossing the county line can also stop seniors and disabled persons from visiting family members or reaching any destination that others can access readily by either public or private transportation.

I therefore introduced a bill to allow Access-A-Ride passengers to travel safely and efficiently to their destinations in the western portion of Nassau County, and to provide the same service to Nassau residents who travel into Queens. It would require both Access-A-Ride and AbleRide to transport passengers to destinations up to five miles into the neighboring county-from Queens into Nassau or from Nassau into Queens. The bill passed the Assembly last year; this year, after a major effort, it passed both houses of the legislature. Unfortunately, Governor George Pataki chose to veto the legislation, stranding the senior and disabled riders who would have benefited so much from reciprocal service. In doing so, the governor showed a callous disregard for the needs of senior citizens and disabled people.

The MTA opposed my bill because of cost concerns, but I had already modified it to minimize resulting costs. The original bill would have allowed passengers from Queens and Nassau to travel to any location in either county; the amended bill limits the expanded coverage area to destinations within five miles of the border. I believe that the change in coverage area will keep down costs while still addressing the basic problem that Queens and Nassau riders face when they need to cross the county line via Access-A-Ride or AbleRide. The area within five miles of the border, on both sides, is home to more seniors- frequent users of paratransit services- than any other area in all of New York state. It is also an area with a heavy concentration of doctors' offices, hospitals, laboratories, and other medical service locations. Despite the clearly demonstrated need for reciprocal service and the modification of the bill to address the issue of cost, the MTA maintained its opposition.

Governor Pataki listened to the MTA instead of to the people who actually use Access-A-Ride. Many of my constituents took the time to telephone the governor's office to express their support for the reciprocal service proposal and to ask him to sign the bill. Like me, they are outraged that the governor would fail to see the basic importance of the legislation to their everyday lives. I will continue fighting to ensure that this bill becomes law, and it will truly be a shame if we have to wait until a new governor takes office before correcting this longstanding problem. The people of Queens and Nassau Counties deserve better.

Assemblymember Mark Weprin, a Democrat, represents the 24th Assembly District.

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