ADA 30th Anniversary: MBTA Highlights Progress and Upcoming Accessibility Projects

On the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the nation’s most significant legislation regarding the civil rights of people with disabilities, the MBTA reaffirms its commitment to being a leader in accessible public transportation.

“Thanks to the ADA and our riders who have advocated and partnered with us, the MBTA is more reliable and accessible than ever before,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “We’re proud of the accessibility accomplishments we’ve made so far, but we’re committed to continuing to make improvements, which are fundamental to allowing our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family members with disabilities to use the MBTA safely and confidently. With that in mind, we celebrate this important anniversary and look forward to continuing our path forward.”

This week’s GM Video Update features additional discussion regarding the history of accessibility at the MBTA and the progress toward a fully accessible T.

By the 1970s, the MBTA had already begun projects and programs with a focus on accessibility, including the T’s first elevator going into service at Quincy Center Station in 1971 and offering door-to-door paratransit service through the use of two lift-equipped vans in and around Brookline in 1977. Early Federal laws and state oversight through the Massachusetts Architectural Board helped to expand a focus on accessibility at the T and, by 1990 when the ADA was signed, around twenty-five MBTA stations were accessible. At that time, some buses were also accessible, though customers were required to call ahead to request these lift-equipped buses be assigned to a particular route.

The signing of the ADA in 1990 aimed to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities, including in public transportation. Expectations for public transit providers like the MBTA were clarified and called for all parts of service to be accessible, including reliable stop announcements, improved employee trainings, and accessible key stations and vehicles.

The existence of the ADA has also given riders a mechanism for holding organizations accountable for providing accessible service. While the T had made some progress since the signing of the ADA in 1990, a group of riders with disabilities along with the Boston Center for Independent Living filed a class-action lawsuit against the T in 2002 that cited many ADA violations, including broken elevators, inaccessible buses, and employees not equipped to assist customers as needed.

Following a comprehensive settlement agreement of this lawsuit in 2006, the MBTA has fundamentally shifted its approach, initiating accessibility projects and programs with the goal of becoming a global leader in accessible transit. In the fifteen years since the settlement agreement, tremendous progress has been made – to name a few:

•The MBTA now has over 232 accessible stations – including 200 elevators system-wide with elevator “up time” averaging 99.4 percent or better consistently over the last decade through new elevator maintenance contracts. 

•The T’s bus fleet is 100 percent accessible with the newest fleet designed with feedback from riders with disabilities that has resulted in a layout that will provide more space and options for all customers, including wheelchair users and families with strollers.

•All front-line employees receive improved training in providing accessible and inclusive service to all customers, including one-of-a-kind training in assisting customers with disabilities during emergency situations.

•Recognizing that first-hand experiences help shape a more usable system, the MBTA continues to reinforce its efforts to include riders with disabilities in its decision-making processes by hiring talented staff who also have disabilities and improving rider engagement through groups like the T’s Riders’ Transportation Access Group (R-TAG).

The RIDE is also a leader in service quality, efficiency, and innovation among peer paratransit operations. Since the launch of this service on a smaller scale in 1977, the MBTA’s ADA door-to-door paratransit RIDE program currently provides service for eligible customers in fifty-eight surrounding towns and communities, including Boston. Of the 1.6 million trips provided last year on the traditional RIDE service, over 245,000 trips were taken as part of the innovative pilot partnership with Uber and Lyft, which provides customers with flexible options that best meet their needs and additional similar pilot service offerings to come soon. The upcoming software and technology transition to Routematch will also continue to improve the customer experience, enhance reliability, and increase efficiencies by providing customers with a new web-based trip booking platform, a compatible smart phone app, and interactive voice response prompts to assist customers in managing their own trips. The MBTA continues to explore better, more integrated ways to offer trips to its RIDE customers using both paratransit and fixed route service.

While the MBTA is proud of this progress so far, the T is committed to continuous improvement with more projects focused on accessibility in the pipeline. As part of the MBTA’s Plan for Accessible Transportation Infrastructure (PATI) that aims to make the system entirely accessible, major upgrades within the next five years include:

•The renovation of  Symphony and Hynes Stations on the Green Line to improve accessibility;

•Improvements to nine street-level Green Line stops that make these stations fully accessible;

•Over 50 new elevators in design; and

•Many innovative technology pilot programs, including indoor navigation for blind/low vision customers.

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