The MTA is increasingly keen to bring in private developers for help with accessibility upgrades at metro stations – but critics warn that similar partnerships have an uneven track record.
The public transport agency and the Ministry of Urbanism are pushing the “Elevate Transit: Zoning for accessibility”Proposal to have real estate developers build and maintain elevators that connect their properties to nearby stations outside of Manhattan. In return, developers receive zoning bonuses which can include expanding the floor space of a building.
MTA President Patrick Foye presents public-private partnerships as an option to improve access for passengers with disabilities in a system where only 27% of the 493 metro and Staten Island Railway stations are currently wheelchair accessible driving or having other mobility problems.
“I think there is always a role for private capital,” Foye told THE CITY on Wednesday after the MTA board meeting. “And I think as we rebuild the investment plan, public-private partnerships, the use of private capital, should be part of it.”
The MTA’s most recent five-year, $ 51 billion capital program initially called for about 10% of the plan to be spent on accessibility projects. The 2020-2024 plan was put on hold last summer, but Foye said accessibility improvements in the transit system are ripe for private investment.
“I think [Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant] the stations are an opportunity where a public-private partnership approach can make a lot of sense, ”Foye said on the“ Recalibrate Reality: The Future of New York ”podcast with the real estate developer and former MTA board member Scott Rechler, going up Thursday.
Fairness of confidentiality
The Manhattan-bound platform on the E and M lines at Court Square-23rd Street station in Queens became wheelchair accessible earlier this month with the addition of an elevator and others developer-funded upgrades to the 67-story Skyline Tower, the tallest residential building in Queens.
The MTA plans to make the Queens-linked platform ADA compliant as part of its 2020-2024 investment program, which initially planned to spend more than $ 5 billion to make an additional 66 stations accessible.
But advocates said the partial accessibility of Court Square-23rd Street station also highlights some potential shortcomings of developers building and funding the elevator work.
“Our biggest concerns were maintenance and half-accessible stations,” said Jessica Murray of Rise and Resist’s Elevator Action Group, which advocates for accessible transit.
Janno Lieber, MTA’s development director, said the zoning proposal “for the first time would really put us in partnership with the city’s land use authorities” to install more elevators at stations.
Public scrutiny of the proposal could begin next month, officials said.
“This is an idea that our team has been working on with City Planning for a few years,” said Lieber. “We think this is very exciting as it could provide elevators and ADA accessibility at an additional rate.”
The proposal would expand zoning incentives for developers, which are currently limited primarily to Manhattan, according to the planning department.
“A full recovery from COVID-19 requires proactive planning for a more equitable and accessible city,” said Joe Marvilli, spokesperson for DCP.
Of the 340 metro elevators, 52 are already under the supervision of third parties, generally owners whose buildings are linked to neighboring stations.
And some owners have been repeatedly reported for bad work maintenance of elevators and escalators – which in some cases perform less well than the MTA’s own equipment.
“The MTA needs to be a lot smarter about these partnerships,” said Joseph Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “We are really going to have to reverse decades of bad practices. “
Over the past year, MTA data shows, four of the 10 metro elevators with the worst 24-hour availability rates are privately serviced.
The elevator with the worst performance is a private unit at 42nd Street-Bryant Park station which, according to MTA figures, was out of service almost 40% of the time.
Two other private elevators in Brooklyn – at Jay Street-Metrotech and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center – were down almost 25 percent of the time.
“The main question is whether the MTA can find a way to maintain elevators in subways – whether they own them or have someone else put them in place,” Rappaport said. “So far, the MTA has a very poor record on this front.”
Kathryn Wylde, head of the New York City Partnership, which represents business leaders who together employ more than 1.5 million New Yorkers, noted that the MTA has relied on the private sector to come up with multiple ideas that benefit the transit system.
For example, the new live digital metro map – where commuters can follow the movement of the metro in real time on mobile devices – is one of the fruits of the public-private transport innovation agenda.
“This is an opportunity to say that there is a way to move forward with priority projects like ADA stations, even at a time when MTA revenues are making it difficult,” said Wylde.