During a recent meeting I attended regarding Nassau County’s bus service, I was shocked and saddened to learn about an Able-Ride regulation that adheres to bus route guidelines without exception, which is oftentimes inhumane.
While trying to reach the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point for a speaking engagement, Able-Ride, the para-transit arm of NICE Bus, dropped off three disabled passengers and a seeing-eye dog in front of the Sands Point Center for Health & Rehabilitation, a mile from their destination. This was because federal disability regulations only require para-transit services to operate within three-quarters of a mile of an established bus route. This leaves disabled people outside of the bus line radius to pay for taxi services, most of which are not equipped for transporting the disabled.
Upon learning about this awful experience, I invited Legislator Judy Jacobs to join the meeting. Since comprehensive bus routes do not serve large portions of either of our districts, I knew she would be as appalled as I was that three disabled people could be left on the side of the road because of a technicality.
We drafted a joint letter to the Federal Transit Administration’s Acting Commissioner Therese McMillian, imploring the Administration to consider modifying the three-quarter-mile rule of the Americans with Disabilities Act in certain situations.
I have a personal friend who is disabled and has to take a taxi to a public parking lot in order to access Able-Ride because she lives outside the three-quarter-mile limit. It is outrageous that someone who is already struggling with a disability has to take on this additional burden.
Legislator Jacobs and I had a follow up meeting with NICE Bus CEO Michael Setzer to discuss adequate para-transit services for the disabled. Mr. Setzer told us that Able-Ride could extend services, but the county would have to provide approximately $10 million per year in supplemental funding for this service. It was later discovered that NICE has reaped a substantial profit on its county bus lines over the past several years.
This kind of issue is one that Legislator Jacobs has been working on for over 10 years and is saddened to know that people with disabilities still have to struggle for services. She noted that, until 2010, Able-Ride did offer door-to-door service anywhere in Nassau, so it has gotten worse, not better.
Legislator Jacobs and I are committed to coming up with a solution to extend bus services to the disabled in Nassau County. We expect an answer to our request and a fruitful dialogue with federal authorities. Nassau County residents with comments on this issue may contact Legislator Judy Jacobs (516-571-6216) or myself (516-571-6211).