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US rail will get a $1.75 billion boost in federal spending targeted at increasing access for disabled riders as stations across the country remain inaccessible to many.
The Biden administration announced a new program Tuesday, funded by the infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58), to help agencies retrofit subway and rail stations for those who need elevators or ramps. Transportation officials initiated the program on the 32nd anniversary of the enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the landmark legislation that in part guaranteed people with disabilities equal access to public transportation.
More than three decades after passage of the law, systems across the US aren’t compliant.
“For many people who use a wheelchair or are blind or low vision, or just have bad knee or are coming out of surgery, or older folks who have trouble getting up and down stairs, this often means that affordable public transportation by rail is not an option. That is not right, it is not fair,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters on a conference call. “That is what we intend to change.”
The Federal Transit Administration said that $343 million in competitive grants will be made available this year. The department aims to dole out money to transit agencies to repair, update, retrofit, or relocate stations.
More than 25 million people have a travel-limiting disability, Bureau of Transportation Statistics show. Also, more than 900 legacy transit stations still aren’t accessible, the department said in a statement Tuesday.
Lawmakers had originally pushed for significantly more spending to make each station more accessible in the infrastructure law.
“It may require more funding than what’s available in this authorization,” Nuria Fernandez, head of the Federal Transit Administration, said on the call.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently agreed to make about 95% of its subway stations accessible to people with disabilities by 2055 in a settlement for class-action suits. New York metro area has a bulk of the inaccessible stations, Fernandez said.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Army combat veteran injured in the Iraq war who uses a wheelchair, applauded the announcement.
“I’m just sick and tired of hearing stories of friends or constituents unable to use public transit,” she told reporters. She said she’s looking forward to seeing the money go out because too many still live in areas where rail stations lack ramps and elevators.
The Transportation Department will host a virtual event Tuesday with top officials to advertise its recent accessibility efforts on the ADA anniversary. The Transportation Department published its first “Bill of Rights” for passengers with disabilities earlier this month, detailing laws that airlines need to follow after a recent report found that airline passenger complaints rose 300% from before the pandemic.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at email@example.com