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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

DiNapoli: Shift in MTA's Paratransit Program Generates Cost Savings

*Press release has been corrected

November 20, 2023

Costs for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) program to provide transportation services for people with disabilities have declined in recent years, in part due to the MTA’s move to alternative transit services that provided $102.7 million in savings in 2022, according to a report released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Still, some measures of customer satisfaction initially deteriorated as a result of the move to “broker services” and must be monitored to ensure quality service.

"The MTA has switched the majority of paratransit trips to less costly options, but services initially deteriorated as they became the primary provider of transportation, with lower on-time rates and higher no shows,” DiNapoli said. “The authority should closely monitor service complaints, and explain to its board and the public how it will maintain and improve the services it provides to people with disabilities."

The MTA’s New York City Transit (NYCT) unit provides paratransit services, known as Access-A-Ride (AAR), in the five boroughs. NYCT’s services, with nearly 180,000 users, is the largest paratransit system in the nation. The services are mandated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). From 2016 to 2019, the MTA’s total expenses rose 3.6% annually, while paratransit costs rose by 8.5% annually.

MTA Shifts Services to Brokers to Generate Cost Savings

Five modes of transit are provided to those who are eligible to receive paratransit transportation and are included under NYCT’s umbrella of “carrier services.” They are primary carrier, broker, voucher, street hails, and E-Hail. The MTA defines primary carriers as blue and white AAR vehicles that are owned by NYCT but are operated by private contractors. Brokers provide for-hire vehicles, metered taxis, and wheelchair accessible vehicles.

From 2018 to 2022, the MTA reduced the use of primary carrier service from 49.8% of all paratransit rides to 26%. The shift in the composition of services led spending on primary carrier services to drop from $305 million in 2016 to $176 million in 2022. As of April 2023, the more costly primary carrier service AAR vans averaged $116 per ride, compared to broker services, which averaged $40.

DiNapoli’s report found the number of trips taken by primary carriers declined from 362,214 in October 2016 to 143,726 in July 2023. The number of trips taken by brokers increased from 108,538 to 390,165 during the same period. All other services made up less than 15% of trips in June 2023.

Service Issues Amid Shift to Broker Services

DiNapoli’s analysis of services showed that primary carriers still performed better than broker services in some key areas. From October 2016 through July 2023, primary carriers picked up their passengers in 15 minutes or less of the scheduled appointment, on average, 85.8% of the time. Brokers averaged 81.7% and remain below primary carrier services.

From July 2022 through July 2023, primary carriers failed to pick up a scheduled passenger an average of less than one for every 1,000 scheduled rides, while brokers had a failure rate of 3.89 per 1,000. Still, complaints regarding transportation service quality are similar for primary carrier and broker services. In September 2023, primary carrier services had a complaint rate of 4.6 per 1,000, compared to 4.0 for broker services.

Additional Services

  • In 2017, the MTA initiated a limited on-demand pilot program known as E-Hail. Phase II of the program will expand from 1,200 to 3,600 participants along with other significant program changes, which the MTA will then report on after the pilot is complete next year.
  • While about 83% of paratransit registrants are not able to use fixed route services such as buses or the subway, over 30,000 users could access the MTA’s bus fleet and may benefit from further investment in ADA accessible subway stations in the future. The MTA identifies 114 subway stations out of 472 that are currently ADA accessible, with six more coming into service this year.
  • As of Sept. 30, 2023, about 2% of ADA subway station projects in the 2020-2024 capital program were complete, and about 35% had started construction, compared to a completion rate of 16% and an in-construction rate of 43% for all projects in the 2020-2024 capital program.
  • There are 3,448 active medallion taxis out of a fleet of 13,587 and 4,665 for-hire vehicles out of a fleet of 98,267 that are wheelchair accessible. Increasing the local fleet of wheelchair accessible vehicles could provide more options to paratransit users.

DiNapoli recommended the MTA continue to monitor and address complaints for paratransit services, and work in coordination with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to increase the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles. The MTA can also provide greater clarity on how station choices are being made by aligning it with the population of persons with disabilities. In particular, the Bronx, Central and Southern Brooklyn, and Northern Manhattan have neighborhoods that could benefit from focused investments, based on the share of total population with disabilities.

*Correction: A correction was made to the report and the press release after the MTA released updated complaints data in its service performance metrics dashboard. In September 2023, primary carrier services had a complaint rate of 4.6 per 1,000, compared to 4 for broker services (not a complaint rate of 21.6 per 1,000, compared to 7.7 for broker services as previously reported).

MTA’s Paratransit Program: An Overview

Fiscal Tracking Tools and Other Reports
MTA Financial Outlook
Agency Services Monitoring Tool