I know many friends who want to visit New York City one day. Granted, some of the friends who want to visit are people who want to see me. However, I think there are a lot of people who just generally want to visit the Big Apple and see what it’s like to be in the city that never sleeps.
There are lots of things I love about the city, but of course, I am biased because I live in NewYork. That being said, between the occasions I’ve navigated mass transit with minor mobility issues (one or two times with a bad ankle), as well as occasions my parents have navigated mass transit with mobility issues, I felt that it was important to write up an accessibility review of mass transit in New York City.
Before heading to New York, here are a few issues you will need to consider in your travels:
Most subway stations do not have accessibility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates New York City’s subways, says that they operate 114 accessible stations as of 2019. That is actually quite a low number of accessible stations, when you consider the fact that there are over 400 stations in the system. Stations that are near many major tourist attractions lack ADA accessibility, such as the stations near the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Aquarium, and Citi Field (home of the New York Mets, if you’re into baseball). Therefore, if you have any mobility issue or vision impairment, you will need to first check to see whether the subway station you’d need has ADA accessibility (and if not, find alternative travel options). Generally speaking, subway stations on the subway map (a map you can find here) that have a wheelchair icon next to them are at least partially accessible.
Even at many of the stations that are supposed to have ADA accessibility, there can be issues.
For one thing, many of the stations that claim to be accessible are not fully accessible (for
example, a station that only provides accessibility in one direction). 2 For another thing, even among stations that are fully accessible, I’ve heard horror stories at times about elevators breaking down or being broken at a station one sorely needs. In order to avoid accidentally going to a station with a broken down elevator or escalator you really need, I recommend that you check out this MTA site first—the site I linked to lists broken down elevators and escalators throughout New York’s subway system.
If you want to avoid the subways because of subway inaccessibility, just know that
experiences with the buses can be…mixed.
Some bus drivers in New York City can be quite kind. Others…not so much. My mom, who has back problems, deals with bus drivers who have a wide variety of attitudes about how slowly she moves, ranging from the sympathetic to the antagonistic. I’ve heard of cases, off the record, of bus drivers so antagonistic to wheelchair users that they outright pass a stop a wheelchair user is at while driving the bus. You never know what to expect when you get onto a bus. Maybe you’ll get a kind driver, maybe not.
Driver friendliness aside, 100% of the buses in New York City’s MTA bus system has
wheelchair lifts and a place for wheelchairs to go, 3 so people with mobility issues who don’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out which stations are accessible for their needs may want to go for the bus instead. That being said, some drivers are not always well-trained on how to operate wheelchair lifts (especially on some of the express buses, which apparently have rather complicated wheelchair lifts). Even in cases when drivers are well-trained, my mom has also been on buses with non-working lifts and broken wheelchair anchoring systems. Still, the non-express buses (the ones whose routes start with a Q [for Queens], B [for Brooklyn], M [forManhattan], Bx [for Bronx], and S [for Staten Island]) are probably your best bets, because wheelchair lifts on those non-express buses tend to be less complicated (and that you’re therefore less likely to be passed by a bus) than they are for the express buses.
There is transit supposed to be designed specifically for people with disabilities. The only problem is that this form of transit does not work well.
There is actually a paratransit service in New York City, called Access-A-Ride, which provides paratransit to eligible New Yorkers and eligible visitors alike. I would share information about Access-A-Ride…if not for the fact that I have heard so many horror stories about the paratransit system. I’ve heard horror stories of Access-A-Ride coming late, of it, not coming at all, of it not adequately waiting for the resident who needs to get on, and more. It’s so bad that there’s literally a group called “AARRG!” (it stands for Access-A-Ride Reform Group).
So yeah, that wasn’t exactly a glowing accessibility review of mass transit in my hometown, New York City. That being said, for those with disabilities who do decide to visit the Big Apple, I hope that this review is at least helpful in your travels. Also, if you have experience using mass transit in New York with a disability, and you feel that there’s more to add, feel free to comment below!
Thank you, Brendan, for writing this post it was such a huge help while I recover, and if you liked this post give this blog a follow or check out Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for more posts like it. If you have questions please comment below and I will do my best to answer or reach out to Brendan on his blog!