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New York MTA Testing Electric Paratransit Vans

The transportation agency on Monday added the first of 15 electric Access-A-Ride vans. Each has lifts and other amenities for people with wheelchairs and accessibility devices.

A woman prepares to board the ramp of a New York MTA electric van.
A woman prepares to board the first of 15 all-electric Access-a-Ride vehicles at Bowling Green, on Monday.
Marc A. Hermann / MTA
(TNS) — Paratransit passengers are getting a new ride: electric Access-A-Ride vans, with the first of 15 vehicles entering service Monday.

“For our paratransit customers, it’s really a symbol of the investment that the city and state and the MTA has made in this service,” Chris Pangilinan, MTA’s head of paratransit operations, told reporters at a press conference in front of the agency’s lower Manhattan headquarters.

“We’ve got paratransit harnessing technology to be on the same level as bus and subway when it comes to investments and priorities for the MTA,” he said.

The 15 Ford vans are modified with lifts and other amenities to better serve riders in wheelchairs and other accessibility devices. The vehicles cost about $180,000 a piece, transit officials said.

The first van will be operated by All Transit LLC, one of the MTA’s Access-A-Ride contractors, and will be charged at the company’s depot in Arverne on the Rockaway peninsula.

Pangilinan said the vans would begin with short trips until the range of the vehicles — which weigh more than standard electric vans — could be established. All 15 are expected to be in service with different contractors by the end of the year.

The new vans come on the heels of 20 new Ford E-450s with internal combustion engines that were added to the fleet last October.

The MTA operates about 1,100 paratransit vans meant to provide an alternative transit system to New Yorkers whose disabilities make it difficult for them to use the MTA’s subway or bus system.

The vans require riders to book a trip a day in advance, and riders have historically complained about Access-A-Ride’s late arrivals and delays.

The blue-and-white vans are the subject of an ongoing class-action lawsuit in federal court, in which regular riders say the system’s circuitous routes fail to provide comparable service in violation of the state’s human rights law.

Joe Rapaport, executive director at the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, said Monday that while newer, more comfortable vans and greener technology was welcomed by Access-A-Ride passengers, the vehicles wouldn’t address core problems with the service.

“What would show the MTA’s real commitment is an improvement in the service,” he told the Daily News. “We’ve been calling for on-demand service [on the blue-and-yellow vans] for years.”

Transit officials on Monday said 79 percent of polled paratransit riders reported being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with Access-A-Ride service, according to the most recent satisfaction survey.

“We’re still not there yet, but we continue to focus on improving service,” NYC Transit president Richard Davey said Monday.

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