Democrats Don’t Really Care About Accessible Transit Stations

I am not enjoying writing this post. I hate almost always having to be critical. But I have to tell the truth.

The sad truth is that Democrats, as you will see, don’t care about accessible transit stations. As usual, they are engaging in political theater designed to convince people to believing they are doing more to create an accessible, equitable, inclusive society than they are actually doing.

At the outset, I need to establish three points essential to understanding the issue and my frustration.

  • The Americans With Disabilities Act became law on July 26, 1990.
  • Under the law, all physical barriers preventing people with disabilities from accessing facilities were to be removed by local governments no later than July 26, 1995.
  • 32 years after passage of the ADA and 27 years after all public transit stations were to be accessible, more than 900 stations remain inaccessible.

On July 26th, the 32nd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) becoming law, The Biden Administration announced its grossly misleading initiative All Stations Accessibility Program. The program, funded by the infrastructure bill, will spend $343 million on station accessibility this year and $1.75 billion over five years.

While that may sound like a lot of money, we need to consider the actual cost of making old, inaccessible stations accessible.

The Philadelphia, PA area’s public transit system is the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA). SEPTA’s plan to make all of its transit stations accessible has a cost estimate of $4 billion.

The New York City area’s public Transit system is run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). In 2019, the MTA agreed to spend $5.2 billion over five years to make 70 stations accessible. When the work is done, MTA will still have hundreds of inaccessible stations. In a recent settlment, MTA agreed to make 95% of its transit stations accessible by 2055 at a cost of billions of dollars.

One of the biggest reasons why SEPTA, MTA, and many other transit systems are not accessible is the cost associated with making old facilities that were never intended to be accessible inclusive of people with disabilities. After decades of doing almost nothing, the federal government is bragging about its $1.75 billion All Stations Accessibility Program. As you have seen, the federal government could give the entire $1.75 billion to SEPTa, and it wouldn’t be half of the money needed to make SEPTA’s stations accessible. If the MTA got the entire $1.75 billion it would be less than half what the agency is spending on its own and billions less than what would be needed to make 95% of MTA’s stations accessible.

The sad truth is Biden’s All Stations Accessibility Program will make a small percentage of the nation’s more than 900 inaccessible rail stations accessible. Once the $1.75 billion is gone, there is no commitment for additional funding.

The Biden administration knows their program will do little to increase transit accessibility in America. They know most of the stations that are inaccessible today will be inaccessible when the funding ends. Yet, they have the nerve to call their program the All Stations Accessibility Program.

They rolled out a plan on the anniversary of the ADA’s passing, gave it a name that lies about what it will accomplish, talked about the progress America has made including people with disabilities, and counted on most people not realizing the insufficiency of their plan and the lie behind the name of their program.

The All Stations Accessibility Program is not illustrative of Biden and the Democrats being committed to an accessible, equitable, inclusive society. It’s illustrative of how little they care about people with disabilities. This program was created to give the elusion of solving a problem that literally makes it hard for some people to work or even leave their neighborhood while doing little to solve the problem because dedicated funding is so insignificant.

They could have told the truth and developed a decades-long plan to spend billions with the goal of actually making all stations accessible, but they lied about doing so instead. As the MTA settlement shows, people with disabilities are so used to getting nothing that many will settle for a deal that will result in 95% accessibility 65 years after passage of the ADA. People much more tolerant of their discrimination than me would have been overjoyed with an actual plan supported by sufficient, ongoing funds to solve the problem decades after Congress said it would solve the problem. But Democrats, who hope you believe they care, simply won’t solve the problem. All they give, as always, is a marketing slogan designed to fool and a drop in the bucket that lets them talk more about incremental progress while people will suffer for additional decades.

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