People with disabilities face challenges and limited access at some facilities run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act says that people with disabilities should be able to participate in the same day-to-day activities as everyone else, but the Port Authority is not living up to this promise,” DiNapoli said. “As this month marks the 31st anniversary of the ADA, I am encouraged that the Port Authority has agreed to address the problems we identified. Transit systems are facing many challenges, but it is important that trains and buses are accessible to all.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities and provides people with disabilities the right to access and participate in the same day-to-day activities as everyone else. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability in federally assisted programs.
According to the ADA, PANYNJ was required to identify key stations in its Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) system and make those stations accessible and usable by people with disabilities by July 1994, absent an extension of time. Any new construction or alteration of an existing station after October 1991 was also subject to this accessibility requirement.
Although PANYNJ is complying with some aspects of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, auditors identified numerous areas where passengers with disabilities face significant challenges and obstacles.
DiNapoli’s auditors found four of 13 PATH stations (Christopher Street, 9th Street, 14th Street, and 23rd Street) were not accessible to persons in wheelchairs, and two of the four stations (14th Street and 23rd Street) share connections to MTA subway stations that were also inaccessible.
PATH station platforms have raised rubber platform edges to alert travelers with visual impairments to the end of the platform. Auditors found that the warning strips at Newark, Newport, and Grove Street were in poor condition with tiles that were heavily cracked, not level, or slippery from dripping water.
Auditors also found issues at the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) and the George Washington Bridge Bus Station (GWBBS) that could impede access to these terminals.
- The GWBBS and the closest MTA subway station at 175th Street were not fully accessible because the underground passenger connection between the two includes steps that could not be used by people using walkers or wheelchairs.
- At PABT, the subway entrance was an inclined pathway that lacks automatic doors for mobility-impaired individuals. Moreover, gates on the second floor and six lower-level gates were not accessible to individuals using mobility devices as the gates were only accessible by escalators and stairs.
In 2007, the Department of Justice issued a best practices tool kit for state and local governments’ website accessibility. This tool kit recommended establishing procedures for visitors to request accessible information, ensuring webpages are accessible, and providing alternative ways for users to access information on a website. The PANYNJ website does none of these things. For example, there is no option to format text for visually impaired people or an option to change the language.
DiNapoli’s auditors recommended PANYNJ:
- Improve connections for transfer between the PANYNJ’s bus terminals/stops and MTA subway stations;
- Ensure that passengers with disabilities have access to all gates at PABT;
- Maintain PATH’s platform-edge warning tiles in good condition;
- Renovate the facilities such as the PATH stations and platforms at PABT so that they are wheelchair accessible; and
- Work with organizations serving persons with disabilities to address specific needs and test its website for ease of use.
PANYNJ officials agreed with most of the recommendations and have taken actions to implement them, committing to finalize those efforts over the coming months. They disagreed with the recommendation that PANYNJ should take action at locations where its property is adjacent to MTA stations.
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