Commuting

Disabled Commuters Demand More Handicap Accessibility on the Long Island Rail Road

By Jennifer Corr

In the 1990’s, Nadia Holubycyczyi-Ortiz, a full time wheelchair user, had one of her worst experiences with the Long Island Rail Road or LIRR when she was stranded at a Penn Station platform without an elevator. She eventually needed to be carried up the stairs by police and firemen.

To this day, Holubycyczyi-Ortiz avoids the LIRR if she can. Instead, she drives into Manhattan with her husband and two sons to see well known sights, such as the World Trade Center Memorial. Traveling by the LIRR is a hassle for Holubycyczyi-Ortiz because her local Floral Park train station is not equipped with an elevator.

“Everyone is equal and everyone should be treated equally,” Holubnycyczyi-Ortiz said. “Making public transportation accessible is a right for all. This is not a private service for one or two people. This is a service that my tax dollars fund yet I cannot easily utilize.” 

Four consecutive stations on the Montauk line; Massapequa Park, Copiague, Amityville and Lindenhurst are also without elevators, forcing disabled passengers to make inconvenient arrangements.

NY State Senator, John. E Brooks, has begged the LIRR to invest in elevators at those stations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990 to prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities in all areas of public life, including transportation.

“It’s ridiculous in the end, all these years after the ADA regulations were put in that we’re still in a position where people with disabilities don’t have access to the railroad,” Brooks said. “To have four consecutive stations [not have an elevator] is outrageous.”

The ADA requires that stations must have handicap accessible waiting rooms, ticket offices, bathrooms, elevators and ramps. The stations also should have signs, audio and visual announcements and braille. However, when the law was passed it required only key and newly built stations to be made fully ADA accessible.

“The ADA standards issued by the Department of Transportation apply to facilities used by state and local governments to provide designated public transportation services, including bus stops and stations and rail stations,” Kelly Laco, a press assistant at Justice Department Office of Public Affairs, said in an email.

Although only 20 stations out of 124 stations are fully ADA accessible, 87 percent of the stations are equipped with an elevator or a ramp.

According to an article from the New York Times written in 1993, the LIRR  faced with a tight deadline to make 18 of it’s key stations ADA compliant to satisfy federal law at the time when 30,000 people in Suffolk County could not use the LIRR. Advocates for the disabled were not satisfied with the project.

“The Long Island Rail Road takes a lot of heat,” Andy Draghi, a project manager at the Long Island Rail Road, said. “I think they’ve [LIRR] stood up and met the job.” 

In an email, LIRR Spokeswoman, Sarah Armaghan, explained that the LIRR is equipped with procedures and equipment to accommodate disabled passengers. Soon, 89 percent of stations will be handicap accessible with new projects underway.

For now, stations like Floral Park and Amityville remain inaccessible. Senator Brooks stood outside of the Amityville train station on Aug 18, 2017 and signed a letter along with assembly members that called on the LIRR to install elevators.

To this day, Brooks is still asking for an elevator and has even written another letter.

“We made the request that something be done on that area [Montauk Line], not saying they have to do all four stations have to be done at once, but they’ve got to do something to help these folks.” Brooks said. “The initial discussion was they [LIRR] were going to look at it and then we got the notice back that they wouldn’t be able to address it until they do their 2020 plan.”

That 2020 plan includes building a third track along Hicksville and Floral Park to increase east side access. This third track would be a convenience to commuters, including those who are disabled, Sheila Carpenter, a member of the LIRR Commuter Council, noted. 

Floral Park residents are resisting against this track, especially since the plan does not include installing an elevator in the already established station. When  Holubycyczyi-Ortiz found out, she took action by making a public hearing statement and pushing for accessibility at the station.

“The idea that over two billion dollars is slated for this visionary project yet the Floral Park station is going to remain untouched is incomprehensible,” Holubycyczyi-Ortiz said in her public hearing statement.

Similar complaints were made at a press conference that Brooks held about the Mets-Willets train station.

The LIRR provides service to Citi Field on event days, such as New York Mets Games and the U.S Open. However, Mets Willets Point Station is not handicap accessible and requires disabled customers to take the subway to reach accommodations.

“We’re going to push that Citi Field becomes accessible to folks with disabilities as well,” Brooks said.“They deserve the same opportunity to use mass transit as everyone else.”

The MTA announced in a 2014 press release that the Mets Willet Station in Queens would be fully accessible by 2016 as part of a $9.7 million renovation.

Instead, the project has been expanded to completely re-construct the station with a demolition of the current station and an expansion that would accommodate 12-car trains, Carpenter explained. The renovations will also include ADA accessibility.

Elevators are not the only concern of the LIRR Commuter Council. At stations, such as Brentwood and Deer Park, ticket machines are only on one side. People with disabilities, parents of small children, and elderly people have to walk further if they need to catch the train on the other side.

“You have to go up a very, very tall set of stairs in order to get from one side to the other,” Carpenter said. “The way to get the south side is over these stairs, so your only other option is to go the length of the train station to Brentwood road, to walk around the road and then go up this little ramp to go up on the south side.”

Instead of having ticket machines on one side, Carpenter believes they should be on both sides to make the commute easier for those who can’t use the stairs.

At a meeting on April 25 regarding the third track at the Floral Park Village Hall, Holubycyczyi-Ortiz  has continued to let her be heard, as she sat in the front row at the meeting.

After seeing the proposed elevator plans at the meeting, she now has to wait for the plans to be approved by the LIRR. Despite the fact that this situation rephrase, she is happy she did it.

“It’s [happiness] is only one of a few positives that came out of this while third track nightmare,” Holubycyczyi said. “But, like I said in my statement, I should have not even had to ask for it. It should be standard.”