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Access-a-Headaches for some Bronxites

Bronx Times

Access-A-Ride has become a trip to nowhere for some Bronx residents.

For some time the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has imposed stricter eligibility guidelines for several disabled folks.

Many of them need the service to shuttle around the borough for doctor’s appointments and other necessities.

The change has created hardships for several users who recently began the application renewal process, unaware of the changes made two years ago.

It’s happened to one Pelham Bay resident, who asked to be called “Jill Schwarz,” fearing reprisal from the MTA if she used her real name.

Facing a slew of ailments, Schwarz spent months wrangling with the agency when renewing her application despite receiving clearance years ago.

She first went to the MTA-designated medical assesor for an evaluation in Morris Park, undergoing a series of tests, including a mock public bus lift. She couldn’t cope.

“They’re very insensitive, deplorable and demeaning,” said Schwarz, 70. “What they put you through is really unnecessary.”

Schwarz was downgraded to a “feeder service,” a diluted service where taxis shuttle the frail to a nearby bus stop.

After hitting a roadblock, Schwarz finally called on Senator Jeff Klein to flex some political muscle. A day later, she was admitted to the Access program.

“Without access to the program many seniors are left without a visit their doctor or a ride to pick up groceries,” said Klein, who also vouched for another Morris Park resident who wished to remain nameless.

Set for abdominal surgery, the Access-a-Ride user was threatened with a three-month suspension of the service for allegedly failing to appear at her regular location. She was also denied a ride after a driver alleged to have seen the anonymous resident bring a guest.

Her tale has become familiar to Klein’s office, which has recently logged a higher volume of complaints from frail Bronxites who depend on the program.

Klein sees the jump as a residual result of the cash-strapped agency’s new eligibility requirements, that went into effect two years ago.

“We’ve handled these cases in the past, but we’ve gotten a number of these calls,” said Klein.

Since those changes, those who once depended on the program were denied or given “feeder service.”

“How can people take a feeder trip if they’re disabled?” asked Schwarz.

To reduce Access-a-Ride even further, the MTA plans to roll out a policy where Access-a-riders can board mass transit for free. It also will expand use of taxis and black car service operators to reduce the cost of a paratransit trip.

But Klein believes the MTA should handle applications on a case-by-case basis.

“You can’t just take an across-the-board bureaucratic approach to it,” said Klein.

He noted that his office is now working with several residents to reinstate their service.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or dcruz@cnglocal.com.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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